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A Doggone Good Citizen
By Regan White
At the Young at Heart adult day care center for mentally and physically challenged adults in NJ, rooms resound on Saturday morning with a chorus of Kiefer!!! Singing the praises of their favorite yellow Lab, patrons gather around her, sing songs to her, and all eagerly reach for a share of her fur. They shower her with love that she gladly returns, undoubtedly making Saturdays their favorite day of the week.

These simple physical and emotional interactions provide the Young at Heart residents with unrivalled therapy and unconditional love. For seven-year old Kiefer, its just all in a days work as a Therapy Dog bringing love and modern-day miracles to all who know her.

Kiefers owner and best friend Nancy Forsyth recognized Kiefers special talents early on. Nancy taught therapeutic horseback riding at one point and easily identified that Kiefer, with her winning ways and sociability would be a first-rate therapy dog. Kiefer and Nancy attended obedience classes when she was 6 months old and training proved to be a breeze. As Nancy says, I have a friend who is in a wheelchair with MS and Kiefer was never skittish around the wheelchair like most dogs are. I knew shed be a great therapy dog.

At the age of 3, Kiefer attained her Canine Good Citizen Certificate and her TDI (Therapy Dog International) status. She is now 7, has attained her TDIOAV status (Therapy Dogs International Outstanding Active Volunteer for 150+ service hours,) and has over four years of community service under her collar.

Kiefer began her service with visits to the Neptune Convalescent Center in Neptune, NJ. Nancy says that, patients would eagerly await our visits- in the lobby if they were mobile, or if not, in their beds. We visited from room to room allowing each patient quality time. On more than one occasion, a patient whom the nursing staff had been unable to get to eat would take a bite of food just for Kiefer!

Kiefer and Nancy also enjoyed visits to the Salvation Army Retirement Community which housed elderly retired Army Officers from all over the world. Kiefer and Nancy visited both the healthcare floor and individual apartments. The average age of the residents was 95. Nancy recounts that it was so rewarding to have a patient who has never uttered a word clearly say, What a lovely dog! to Kiefer. Even just the physical act of petting Kiefer provides great therapy both physically and emotionally. Nancy adds that, the only downside to visiting the nursing homes is that we get very close to the patients and they pass away. We miss them!

The Salvation Army Retirement Community has since relocated, so these days Kiefer can primarily be found at the Young at Heart center, which is a more upbeat visiting situation. The adults are mentally alert, although challenged, and average 50 years of age. Kiefer provides wonderful therapy and a bright spot in the week for everyone she visits. And while Kiefer revels in the attention, it is evident that she is fully aware of the importance of the healing she provides. Nancy says that before her visits she is brushed and has a special collar put on which identifies that she is a therapy dog. Kiefer always gets very excited for her visits when she sees the brush and collar come out.

And while Kiefer is adept at holding a special place in the hearts of adults, she has managed to capture the attention and imaginations of an entire school full of children as well. Kiefer has accompanied Nancy to Drum Point School in Brick, NJ where Nancy is an elementary art teacher. Kiefer plays an integral role in the schools literacy festivals every year, even assuming the starring role of Maxi in performing interactive roles with the children as they reenact Debra and Sal Barraccas Maxi, the Star and Taxi Dog stories. Children all over town and up and down the beach where Nancy and Kiefer live point and shout out theres Taxi Dog! Kiefer helps out when Nancy has recess duty at school when all the first and second graders try and pet her at once, which the patient Lab never minds.

Proving a true advocate of literacy, Kiefer even can be found at the Bradley Beach Public Library where she is an instrumental figure performing in even more interactive workshops with children. Recently a program has been developed where children practice their reading by reading aloud to the ever-attentive Kiefer!

If all goes well and a publisher is secured, children will not only be able to read with Kiefer but also about her as Nancy has written and illustrated a childrens book that depicts how special and important therapy dog visits are for everyone involved. Through the beautiful collages and the wonderful storyline starring Kiefer, Nancy has been able to highlight the importance of this specialized and integral form of therapy.

Nancy just cant say enough about her best Lab friend. She is a loving, friendly, go anywhere, please-pet-me kind of girl. Her favorite activities include anything we can do together. She romps through the snow while I cross-country ski. She swims in the lake while I row a boat in fact, passing motorists have occasionally stopped their cars in the summer thinking that the buoyant Kiefer is a white alligator! Kiefer loves soft toys, getting into the garbage and sitting on the porch just watching the people go by. Nancy adds that Kiefer is the most unselfish, giving creature and has her own fan clubs, both in town and at the elementary school. I am just so proud of the accolades that she receives for the work that she does. Particularly the Canine Good Citizen award because it demonstrates good manners for people or dogs. And demonstrate she does-its a lesson to be learned by us all.

Tail End

To learn more about therapy dog work, visit
Therapy Dogs International.

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