Therapy dog Willie loves squirrels – and helping others
Published 9:24 am Tuesday, February 25, 2014
For many seniors, the worst thing about leaving their home and moving into a new residence community or nursing home is that their pets can’t come with them.
Luckily, Albert Lea has Willie. Willie is a 6-year-old white German Shepherd therapy dog owned by Lori Ashleson. Ashleson got Willie when he was 4 years old and went through a comprehensive training program to get him certified by Therapy Dogs International.
Willie is obedience trained, has an outstanding temperament and, above all else, loves to visit with people. He mainly visits seniors at St. John’s Community Lutheran Home, Thorne Crest and Oak Park Place. He also goes with on walks with Ashleson on her Blue Zones Walking Moai.
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Ashleson said it’s easy to see the joy in everyone’s face when Willie comes around. She added that therapy dogs help lower high blood pressure and help people heal faster.
Willie has an official bandana as a uniform and an identification card, to get both he had to pass a test. Therapy Dogs International is a “volunteer group organized to provide qualified handlers and their therapy dogs for visitation s to institutions, facilities and any other place where Therapy Dogs are needed,” According to their brochure.
The organization is non-profit and there is no charge for visitations. The main function of the dogs is to “bring sparkle to a sterile day, provide a lively subject for conversation and rekindle old memories of previously owned pets.”
Willie doesn’t make as many visits in the winter because of the cold weather, but he does have winter boots for when he does need to go out. He wasn’t trained to be a therapy dog when Ashleson got him; two and a half years later the two are basically inseparable.
“I need him as much as he needs me,” Ashleson said.
Before Willie, Ashleson had another dog named Max, who was also a therapy dog. She said that after Max died getting another dog was top priority for her.
“Any dog that walks in my door is destined to live with me forever,” Ashleson said.
Willie participated in dog shows, and gets along with other dogs as well as with people. Ashleson said that like any other dog he enjoys chasing squirrels. She spelled out the word to avoid peaking Willie’s interest.
“Someday he’s going to learn how to spell it,” she said with a laugh.
Ashleson gave a presentation about Willie on Feb. 10 for the Scarlett Seniors of the Albert Lea Senior Center. The Scarlett Seniors are members of the Senior Center who get together for coffee in the morning, go out to eat and do charity events at Christmas time. They are a version of the Red Hat Society, but are not affiliated with the group.
After the presentation, Willie showed off his obedience and then patiently waited for Ashleson to get done talking before he could make the rounds and get petted by everyone. Some of the Scarlett Seniors shared stories about previous pets they had owned. Many are now living in nursing homes and can no longer own pets.