When Polo and Star visit Sunflower Diversified Services, they generate “smiles, lots of smiles,” said Amanda Urban, the non-profit agency’s training/advocacy coordinator.
“When the folks learn the dogs will be here, they are waiting at the door,” Urban commented. “And once they arrive, there is enjoyment written all over everyone’s face – not just the people we serve but the staff as well.”
Sunflower serves people with developmental disabilities and delays, who benefit from dog therapy in many ways, Urban said.
“Interaction with the dogs provides tactile therapy for folks who rely on touch to understand people and objects in their environment,” Urban said. “It also enhances socialization and self-confidence.
“One of our clients even came up with the idea to make dog biscuits as a token of appreciation,” she continued. “And others are planning to make more treats this summer.”
Urban noted this special therapy program wouldn’t be possible without the professionalism of Bobbie King, Great Bend. Many long-time area residents know King from her decades of volunteer service at the Golden Belt Humane Society.
“Bobbie’s willingness to provide this free service is just amazing,” Urban said. “We are constantly looking for activities for our retirement and therapy programs. This is one of our clients’ favorite activities.”
King escorts the poodle, Polo, or the lurcher, Star, to Sunflower about once a month. A lurcher is part greyhound, part collie. Therapy Dogs Inc. certified the animals.
“It is great to see Polo and Star intermingle with Sunflower clients,” King said. “It helps with relaxation, and everyone talks to and smiles at the dogs. It just seems to make a better day for them.”
The therapy program started when Sunflower called King and asked if she could help. “They called, and I really liked the idea,” said King, who also visits schools, and medical and assisted-living facilities.
Testing for the animals is through the Hutchinson Kennel Club. It entails obedience classes and interaction with people who use wheelchairs, walkers and canes. The dogs also are evaluated as a stranger brushes their coats, and monitored to determine how they react when separated from their handlers.
A handler, such as King, is tested along with the dogs; these evaluations include at least four visits to facilities before certification.
Sunflower serves infants, toddlers and adults in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties.