Ella earns her badge
We love our loyal, steadfast, tail-wagging companion dogs. Of course dogs are also trained for more important work – to aid physically and mentally impaired individuals, support police, serve with military troops, and more.
We can appreciate their service as comfort therapy animals as well. For patients in assisted living and nursing facilities there is little to match a warm, gentle, friendly dog, eager to please. When one is unwell, feeling pain, or in distress, it might be the best medicine a person will have all day.
It was my pleasure to meet a Certified Comfort Therapy Dog, and better yet, to tell you her story.
Ella had a rough start in life. The police found Ella and her five puppies in an abandoned house. She and her pups were taken to Friendship APL in Elyria. Animal foster volunteers Gerry and Dennis Stylski were asked to care for her until she was ready for surgery and adoption.
Within hours of meeting her, Gerry and Dennis knew Ella had found her “forever home” with them. Although she had been treated poorly, with love and patience Ella became a sweet, quiet, and loyal dog, ready to return the favor of comfort to others.
After retirement, Gerry and Dennis moved with Ella from their Bay Village home to Concord Reserve Independent Living in Westlake, a facility that features continuous care. The Concord Reserve facility, owned and managed by not-for-profit Life Enriching Communities based in Cincinnati, supports pastoral care, a benevolent fund which allows residents to stay even if they run out of personal funds, as well as an employee assistance fund. Concord recognized the value Ella could give Assisted Living and Long Term residents, to bring them joy and brighten their days.
Ella’s journey to become a therapy dog began with her first visit to the Elite K-911 Dog Training & Behavior facility in North Ridgeville. She had to be approved before she was accepted into the program. Ella went through an hourlong evaluation. Elite K-911 agreed Ella was suitable for training with Bright & Beautiful Therapy Dog Inc., based in New Jersey, an organization authorized to certify therapy dogs.
Mike Falatach, an official contractor with Bright & Beautiful, was Ella’s trainer, along with nine other dogs. Mike is a skillful and thoughtful coach. His job is to teach owners and their pets how to handle visitation to, and touching from, strangers, as well as to tolerate distracting noise and human traffic. These qualities are necessary in order to graduate from Bright & Beautiful’s Certified Service Dog classes. After four weeks of intense training, nine dogs in Ella’s class were ready for their final exam.
Thanks to Concord’s Kate Drummond, Event and Program Manager in the Health Center and Assisted Living, a nurse training area was made ready for a mock visit from residents and staff. The dogs must demonstrate that they can tolerate the attention and noise of busy health care hallways in order to complete their certification. Eight residents from Independent Living came over to role play, filling the corridors and rooms as patients in wheelchairs, with canes, on walkers, and confined to bed.
Mike observed how the owners led their dogs through the noise and activity of a busy health care facility. The carefully trained dogs calmly and lovingly offered their gift of patience and warmth to each play-acting patient. It was a rewarding experience for all participants who contributed to the program. That goes especially for our dogs, who eagerly and willingly show us love, no matter how old, disabled, fragile, or grumpy we might be.
Ella is Concord Reserve’s first dog resident and therapy dog. An American Staffordshire Bull Terrier, whose gentle manner has won the hearts of the residents in Independent Living, Ella is now ready to bestow her loving grace on the entire Concord facility.
Julie Feagler with Gerry Stylski
Julie Feagler with Gerry Stylski