HOWLLOWEEN: Therapy dog, owner work in community to promote happiness

Kia, a Goldendoodle, and his master, Jennifer McMichael, like to dress-up for holidays. For this Halloween, they dressed as Peacocks - decked out with tails, cuffs, top hat with feathers in teals and greens, they won first place in an annual Halloween Costume contest held at Heritage Oaks Retirement Community for Most Original.

McMichael and Kia are a therapy team and members of the Caring Canines organization. They enjoy visiting nursing homes, elementary schools, libraries, hospitals and whereever they are needed to promote social interaction, encouraging exercise and toprovide a lot of joy for the lonely.  Last Thursday, dressed in their costumes, along with Jennifer’s husband, Wilson, they attended the annual Halloween celebration and contest at the retirement community.  The community hosted 25 therapy teams dressed as dinosaurs, pumpkins, Goldilocks with her three bears, Pluto with Minnie and Mickey Mouse, and more. 

“It was amazing at all the creative ideas the therapy teams came up with to entertain the residents,” said McMichael. “The sweet smiles certainly showed on the residents’ faces as the dogs passed and they reached out and touched them.”  After winners of the three categories, that also included Best Costume and Scariest Costume, were announced, a reception with Halloween goodies and punch was enjoyed by all the attendees, along with special treats for the canines.

Kia was three-months old when McMichael got him.  He is now a little over two years-old. His full name, Kaixin, was given to him by McMichael’s daughter, Molly.  It means happy in Chinese, or literally “open heart.”  “Molly is an acupuncturist. I asked her to help me give Kai a beautiful name with a beautiful meaning,” she said. “She exceeded my expectations and his name fits him to a “T.” I can literally say, he opens his big heart to everyone he meets. It is evident in his eyes, his wagging tail and prancing feet.”

McMichael worked in the pet industry and learned a lot about pet therapy. I loved the whole concept and added it to my bucket list,” she said. “Now it is time to check it off.”

“We started our basic obedience training after he finished all his puppy vaccines. He was around six months. Training continued with our sights toward receiving the Canine Good Citizen certificate, which helped me become a responsible dog owner as well as teaching Kai basic good manners for home and being out in the community.”

When McMichael felt he was ready, she signed him up for the Therapy Test through the Caring Canines organization. The test is provided at several locations in the surrounding areas throughout the year. “The night we passed our test, I knew we had a great future in bringing love and joy to lots of people,” McMichael said. “In fact, I call him my “Joy Dog” and I am just lucky enough to be the driver of this dog.”

Kia and McMichael joined Caring Canines this past spring. “Being a part of this vital and compassionate organization of people along with their dogs has already proved to be a wonderful chapter in my life,” she said.

Along with visitations at various locations, Kai and McMichael participate in the Chesterfield County Library Program Read to Rover. “The children look forward to reading to Kai and the other teams that attend,” McMichael said. “This provides an atmosphere where the children do not feel judged or threatened, the greatest benefit is that their skill of reading improves along with their self-esteem.

Aleta Shelton is the driving force of Caring Canine. “She is invaluable to the program and makes sure it runs efficiently and as smooth as possible,” she said. “She distributes and coordinates all of the organization’s activities and makes several visits herself with her three Corgis.”  

For more information about Caring Canines or therapy work visit www.caringk9.com.

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