BLUEFIELD – A therapy dog ââin training and a therapy dog ââhandler in training have teamed up to bring a heartwarming new service to children attending a local community center.
Mickey Pellillo and his dog Gabi, a flat-coated retriever, are now volunteers at the Wade Center. Gabi listened and relaxed while Zuri Amaker, a second grader, read Dr. Seuss’ Fox in Soxs to her. Gabi, who is a 2.5-year-old, was listening.
âWhen I decided Miss Prissy here would be a therapy dog, this is the first place we thought about,â Pellillo said.
Pellillo and Gabi took on-site classes with coach Charlie Altice. These lessons, which included basic obedience and off-leash training, lasted about five and a half months. Gabi recently obtained her CGCC, which is the Canine Good Citizen certification. This was not the end of dog and handler training.
âWe drove to Blacksburg once a week for six weeks for school,â Pellillo recalled. “Then six weeks in Roanoke at Star City Canine for a therapy dog ââcourse.”
At the end of January 2022, Pellillo and Gabi will be evaluated by Pet Partners, an organization that trains pets and their owners. Once certified, they will be reassessed every two years.
âMeanwhile, we are a volunteer training therapy team at Wade,â she said.
Pellillo said she acquired Gabi from an Amish breeder in Ohio and asked for a puppy that had potential as a therapy dog. Prospective therapy dogs need the right temperament for the job. They can never be aggressive and they can never growl. Flat-coated retrievers have a special quality that makes them suitable for therapy work.
âThey are known as the Peter Pan of dogs because they will never grow up,â she said. “They will always have a little bit of a puppy in them.”
Therapy dog ââhandlers should learn how to give basic commands such as sit and stay, how to work with their dogs when they are around people, and how to recognize when their dog is under stress. Dogs learn things like how to work around wheelchairs and lots of activities.
âI can learn what to say to keep her calm,â Pellillo said. âI have classes to learn how to be a good advocate for your dog. “
Gabi now works with individual children at the Wade Center. She does this by being a non-critical audience when they read aloud to her.
“It’s nice to read to someone who won’t judge you,” Pellillo added. “She makes them feel comfortable and they look up to see if she’s paying attention.”
Once their training is complete, Pellillo and Gabi will be regulars at the Wade Center.
âThis is our goal,â she said.
– Contact Greg Jordan at [email protected]