My Catawba County

River the Therapy Dog

River the Therapy Dog

Sometimes our idea of what it means to be Making. Living. Better. in Catawba County can take a fun and surprising turn – which is exactly what happened when we met River, a 15-month-old Goldendoodle who is currently working as a therapy dog at Family NET. River is part of the Family NET team that provides support to families engaged with Catawba County Social Services through an array of preventive and clinical services. Here’s what River had to say about what she thinks is the best gig in town.

Where do you work?
Well, mostly I go to Family NET with my human and get to see lots of people there. I love listening to them talk and getting pets and belly rubs. Sometimes we do volunteer work other places and there are usually lots of nice people there too. A couple weeks ago we met a lot of nice people at CVCC. I got to go to two classes and meet the students. They were very excited.

What inspired you to become a therapy dog?
I love being around lots of people, but you know, sometimes humans have big feelings and they get all tangled up inside, and well, if I can get them to focus on me for a few minutes, those feelings get untangled a little and I get some good petting. It’s a win-win, isn’t it?

Did you have to have any special training or certification to become a therapy dog?
Oh yes! I started taking my human to classes with me when I was five months old. She loved them. The first set of classes taught us the basics, but we did three six week sets of classes and two big tests. The first test had ten parts and was really hard. I love giving people hugs, but you fail the test if you do that. It was the Canine Good Citizen test. Then some people in Charlotte invited us to take the test to be a therapy dog team. My human thought I was too young ‘cause I hadn’t had my first birthday yet, but the people in Charlotte said it would be a good learning experience so we went and I passed!!! Boy, was my human proud!  She and I are a registered therapy team with Invisible Paw Prints. I have two certificates, and we had a party to celebrate on my birthday. 

What does a typical work day look like for you? 
We get up early at our house, snuggle on the couch a bit before a morning walk. I like to check out our town and neighborhood every morning. There is so much to smell and see in the morning. The human does stuff on that light-up box sometimes before we go to the office. I am always so excited to get there! My favorite person, Angie, gives me a hug first thing (I know I am not supposed to jump up and hug, but Angie loves it) and my other favorites, Nita and Lisa, always have a little snack for me. Then we go to the office and people just come to us.  

Sometimes it is human puppies and sometimes it is big people. It’s great! I try to see if they want to play a little bit, or if they just need some extra loving and kisses, or snuggles. Sometimes I just lie by their feet. You can tell a lot from feet. I am getting to know some of the people pretty well. Some of the people have lost their way a little bit, and I try to nudge them back on the right path. I know a lot about following paths. Sometimes we go outside for a break. I have been encouraging the humans to diversify their snacks so that sometimes when we go through the halls people come out of their office and we all have a bit of a visit and a wee snack. The humans at DSS are really smart and seem to get the idea.  Everyone enjoys a little break time. I also keep some toys and a water bowl at work ‘cause listening can be hard work. Then I go home and have a big nap. Humans could learn a thing or two about naps. 

What kind of impact do you feel you have on others as a result of your work?
Well, I don’t want to brag but my human told me that some people only want to come to the office if I am there. I know, right?! One girl said she wouldn’t talk to anyone unless there was a therapy dog around. After people get there and we’ve snuggled some I notice they start talking to my human and sorta don’t think about me as much, which is fine ‘cause I already got some good snuggles and well, I can catch a nap. Sometimes people smell a bit grumpy, but they usually stop being grumpy when I poke them a bit, you know, try to make them smile. It usually works and they are usually happier to be there.  I think I am pretty good about figuring out what a person needs. 

What’s your favorite thing about your job?
The people, the pets, but I won’t pretend I don’t enjoy the treats.

What do you like to do in your free time?
Oh my goodness, me and my humans have lots of adventures! We just went to Maine. I love the ocean, and lakes and rivers and ponds and creeks… oh! don’t get me started. I even have my own kiddie pool and sprinkler. We like to hike in the mountains. We visit the county dog parks with friends most weeks.  Running with friends is just great. I love shopping at TJ Maxx. They know me by name there. I still take classes.  ‘Cause I did so well in my other classes, I took one to learn to think and make choices, read a little and recognize blue and yellow. (Dogs don’t see all colors like you humans do, but we smell 10,000 times better.) Now, I am taking classes to learn tricks because I think the human puppies at the office would like that. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share about what you do? 
Well, I like to see people happy but I know sometimes humans need a nudge, or a hug or a kiss, something to help them feel loved and I am so happy to be able to do that because I really do love those people. The back scratches and treats are just an unexpected perk. 


Favorite treat?
Chicken jerky, hot dog bits and on a hot hiking day a bit of vanilla ice cream

Favorite toy?
Right now, my corduroy lobster that squeaks and crinkles

Car rides or walks?
Both of course

Ear rubs or back scratches?  
That’s tough, back scratches, I think, but belly rubs have a place too

Easy Listening or Rock n Roll? 
Hmmm. . . well, don’t tell anyone, but I am a bit of a diva.  A good tune from a musical gets my juices flowing. 

[Editor’s Note: Special thanks to River’s human, Donna Dell, for getting this interview on River’s busy schedule.]