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Therapy dog making rounds in Riverton
Ashgrove Elementary School student Sadie Witzel read "All About Horses" to Shotzy, a therapy dog owned by Sheila Newlin of Riverton, during the 2012-13 school year. Shotzy also visits hospitals and nursing homes. Photo provided

Therapy dog making rounds in Riverton

Jun 25, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

The female Lhasa Apso that is making the rounds at Homestead Living, Help for Health Hospice and Ashgrove Elementary School is 8-year-old Shotzy, a therapy dog adopted in 2007 by Riverton resident Sheila Newlin.

Newlin registered Shotzy in 2008 with the national organization Therapy Dogs Incorporated and has since taken her on friendly visits around Riverton, including trips to the Wind River Health Care and Rehabilitation Center.

"Our purpose is to share happiness and bring cheer to people of all ages," Newlin said. "The motto of this organization is 'sharing smiles and joy.'"

Newlin said the interaction with Shotzy is what makes many feel at ease and uplifted. Therapy dogs visit hospitals, veterans homes, nursing homes, schools and libraries.

The activities director at Homestead Living, Tammy Baldes, described Shotzy's visits as a "natural pain reliever" for the home's residents.

"When animals are around, you can see the memories coming back (to them) and they relax," Baldes said.

Newlin said people are able to simply look at them, talk to them and brush them. Some who are unable to talk simply give her a back rub and others who can't see feel her soft body.

Most recently, Shotzy has led the "Reading With Shotzy" program at Ashgrove and met with students who ask about her and practice their manners before petting her.

"The first few times we went to school, Shotzy was very shy," Newlin explained. "Now she trots down the hallway and knows right where the classroom is."

Each students got the chance to read to Shotzy.

"When each child finishes, they are told, 'Thank you for reading to Shotzy. You may pet her now,'" she said. "They are rewarded for their good reading, and Shotzy is rewarded for sitting still and being a good listener."

To be a therapy dog, Newlin said dogs must obey all hand signals, be at least 1 year old, not mind strange noises or smells and be calm and unafraid.

To become registered, both Newlin and Shotzy had to participate in a series of observations by testers and were placed in different environments. The observations were transcribed onto a report card that confirmed Shotzy to be a "well-mannered dog" and a "real asset to clients and to Therapy Dogs Incorporated."

The pair has volunteered more than 150 hours.

"We enjoy the bright smiles we receive as soon as we walk into their rooms," Newlin said. "Our visits are especially valuable if we are the only visitors they have received for a long time."

The benefits of therapy dogs were first noted during World War II, when wounded soldiers welcomed the companionship. The practice has been seen as a great way to relieve stress, lower blood pressure and improve speech and emotional disorders in children. Cancer patients and children whose parents are in the military and have been deployed to other countries have also benefited.

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