Compassionate Paws, Inc. is an affiliate of Pet Partners. It was originally created July 5, 2007, in Rome, GA in response to a growing need for therapy animals in the community. The life-blood of Compassionate Paws, as is the case with most non-profit organizations, lies with volunteerism. They value every level of volunteerism—gifts—large and small; likewise, the animal volunteers used in Compassionate Paws run the same gamut. The Teams consist of dogs, cats, and llamas. They are personal companions of the human volunteers and both must go through rigorous training to be a part of the program.
Compassionate Paws requires each person and animal volunteer complete extensive educational requirements. The pre-requisites for participation in Compassionate Paw projects are for the human volunteers to have successfully completed a course on therapeutic animal handling so as to learn the appropriate ways of handling their pets in a variety of situations. The animal volunteers must be “veterinarian approved” complete with up-to-date vaccinations and must have successfully graduated obedience school. Both human and animal volunteers need to be in good health and capable of physically handling whatever task is at hand. They must also successfully complete a registration test which evaluates the human-animals team skills and aptitude.
Compassionate Paws serves in a variety of settings, such as schools, libraries, hospitals, assisted-living and nursing homes, and hospice, just to name a few. The benefits of animal therapy have been well documented. Children who have difficulty in reading aloud often find that dogs are just the right kind of non-judgmental audience they need in order to make reading aloud more fun and less stressful. The animals help children with a variety of issues, not just literacy. Some children may be shy when it comes to interacting in a group setting. Other children may struggle with Attention Deficit Disorder or another type of learning disability. Regardless of the issue, children seem to benefit from the animal volunteers.
Compassionate Paws supports a literacy initiative called, READ, which stands for “Reading Education Assistance [with] Dogs [or cats]”. These educational activities may take place in local schools, libraries, or bookstores. Currently, Compassionate Paws’ READ literacy program runs only during the regular school year. It is the goal of Compassionate Paws to reach as many children in need as possible.
From the very young to the very old, Compassionate Paws strives to bring peace, joy, and comfort to those in need. In order to receive treatment, many residents of long-term healthcare facilities are forced to leave behind their beloved pets. Interacting with the therapy animals helps the residents to reconnect to their past and often gives them some much needed encouragement to improve enough so as to spend more time with the visiting animal. There was an incident involving Compassionate Paws where a man lay in a non-responsive state for over a week. As a last ditch effort, the family asked that one of the therapy dogs be allowed to visit their loved one because he was an avid dog lover. Immediately upon arrival at bedside, the previously comatose man spontaneously began stroking the dog’s fur.
Compassionate Paws member, Catherine Varidel, has been working with service animals for decades. Her current service dog came from her own kennel, Sagenhaft Rottweilers. He is a 120-pound Rottweiler named Sagenhaft Gryphon Vom Drakkenfels, or “Gryphon”, for short. Catherine hopes that by using Rottweilers as therapy dogs, the negative stigma attached to the breed will be diminished. Gryphon successfully completed extensive training to become Catherine’s personal service animal prior to their joining forces with Compassionate Paws.
This is Gryphon’s Story:
My name is Gryphon. I am a four year old AKC registered Rottweiler lucky enough to be living up to my breed’s standard as part of the “Working Group”. That’s right! I have a job! Actually, I have several jobs!
My first job is that of service animal to my human, Catherine Varidel. I call her “Cathy” while at work and “Mom” when relaxing at home. She has a medical condition that, at times, makes it difficult for her to maintain stability while on her feet. That is where I come in. Cathy has trained me to be her “crutch”. I am used to help her maintain balance so that she has the freedom to go anywhere and do anything. I assist her in many other ways by helping her to open doors, picking up things she may have dropped, or bringing her things that she needs but may be unable to get.
My second job is that of companion to my human. She and I go nearly everywhere and do everything together. She is the center of my universe and I like to think that I am the center of hers. There is nothing I would not do for her because she has given everything to me.
In fact, Cathy chose me specifically from my litter because of the resemblance I have to my dad, who was Cathy’s service companion before me. I guess you could say that helping others is a family tradition. In fact, my dad saved Cathy from a house fire that would have taken her life. He instilled in me the importance of helping humans through life. After all, humans struggle with having two or fewer legs instead of four! Dad always said that ALL dogs have the responsibility to make human lives better, but only a select few actually live up to the calling. Nearly all of my siblings have followed suit and are helpful companions in some way to their humans.
My third job is probably one of the most rewarding jobs a pup could ever have and is that of being a canine volunteer with Compassionate Paws. I visit all kinds of places, such as: schools, libraries, and hospitals.
Perhaps the most rewarding job for me is when I help kids learn to read! Cathy and I go to local schools where the tiny humans who are having difficulty learning to read or with pronunciation are allowed to read to me. I LOVE IT! I don’t care what they read or how many times I have heard it before. I just love the stories and how they often stroke my fur or tickle my ears while they read.
Sometimes, when bad things happen at a school and it is reported on the news, the kids might be scared it could happen at their school. That is when Cathy and I show up to greet them in the morning as they arrive to make sure they feel safe and protected. The kids love me so much and I love them. The teachers report that the students get so excited when they know I will be visiting the school but, the truth is, I am probably just as excited to see them as they are to see me!
I love all the jobs I have been assigned. In fact, if I go too long without visiting people in need or helping someone, I start getting restless. Cathy says that I mope around and get depressed. That is why I hope more public libraries and hospitals will adopt Compassionate Paws as a partner in therapy. I want to stay busy all the time. After all, life is hard for you humans. You could really use a helping paw.
It should be known that a lot of people might look at me and think I am scary because of my size and because Rottweilers have been accused of bad things in the past. But, we are just like humans. Most of us are kind and loving and fun. There are those who have been taught to be mean and scary. They are the ones that give, not just Rottweilers, but all dogs a bad name. My human, Cathy, is doing her part to help educate the community at large about my breed and to show that we are big lovable teddy bears who are active, engaging, and very protective of our families.
I love all humans. I guess because my human has set such a fine example. I am paid for my service to her and the community with tons of love and affection and dog treats and that is all a pup could ask for.
-As told to Kenneth Shuman
This story originally appeared in Facing Hope, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Georgia Highlands College, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, and Berry College in Rome, Georgia.