Charlene never runs out of projects but her favorite one is volunteering as a Therapy Dog team with her Great Dane, Grey.

In this 30th episode of Therapy Dog Talk, I sat down with Charlene who recently completed over 200 volunteer Therapy Dog visits through Alliance of Therapy Dogs with her Great Dane, Grey.

Charlene fell in love with Great Danes at 12 years old but had to wait until she was 20 to bring home her first Dane, and heart dog, Emmet. Her hope was to become a Therapy Dog team with Emmet but she quickly discovered that it was not a life that he would enjoy as he was nervous and fearful which in turn made him reactive.

When Grey passed, Charlene was heartbroken but the timing was right to bring home a new Great Dane puppy who she named Grey in honor of Emmet’s coat color. She focused on providing positive socialization experiences for Grey, protecting his optimism, and they were able to not only pass their Therapy Dog test at 14 months old and during the pandemic but to also complete 200 visits within their first year.

Charlene and Grey are truly an over the top pet therapy team and her passion shines through as she shares their experiences and what she does to take it up a notch and make a lasting impact on top of bringing smiles.

If you’re ready to catch Charlene’s contagious energy and harness it for your own experiences, let’s dive in:

In this episode, we discuss …

  • Why Charlene decided she wanted to train a Great Dane as a Therapy Dog.
  • What it was like to find places to volunteer during the pandemic and how her solutions led to over 200 visits.
  • What Charlene is doing to help support other pet therapy teams to make an impact.

Key moments you won’t want to miss:

  • [01:11] Charlene and Grey have been a Therapy Dog team for just over a year and have completed over 200 visits.
  • [01:48] How a history of volunteering led to a dream to work with a Great Dane as a Therapy Dog.
  • [02:51] Charlene reminisces about her childhood black Labrador and when she fell in love with Great Danes.
  • [03:38] Where Grey’s name came from and how it honors Emmet, her first Dane.
  • [03:56] Why Charlene doesn’t want to have a second dog and how that would impact her relationship with Grey.
  • [05:00] Charlene shares about Emmet, her reactive heart dog, and why she knew he wouldn’t be a Therapy Dog.
  • [07:34] How Emmet was a learning experience for Charlene and how that has helped her to train Grey.
  • [08:42] Charlene’s dedication to becoming a volunteer Therapy Dog team with Grey.
  • [09:40] Charlene shares how she found Grey’s breeder, WRF Great Danes, and why she chose them.
  • [12:02] Grey’s challenging puppyhood and what Charlene found helped to work with him rather than against him.
  • [12:55] Charlene shares about Grey’s happy disponsition and tolerance of difficult situations.
  • [13:40] How Charlene protected Grey’s optimism while socializing him.
  • [14:38] What surprised Charlene about Grey during their first month of pet therapy visits together.
  • [15:51] Charlene talks about Grey ability to learn to adapt to loud noises and novelty in different facilities.
  • [17:00] The importance of making sure that socialization experiences are always positive.
  • [17:39] Charlene reflects on how it was difficult to convince a breeder to trust her when she was in her 20s.
  • [17:58] Things Charlene has learned to ask breeders about early socialization experiences (e.g. puppy culture).
  • [18:52] Why Charlene avoids dog parks and pet stores and is careful about Grey meeting other dogs.
  • [19:22] The emotional connection between handlers and their dogs.
  • [19:53] Why the timing of losing Emmet and bringing Grey home lined up with COVID-19.
  • [20:59] Charlene’s favorite thing about volunteering with Grey and sharing him with others.
  • [21:37] How Grey has made a positive impact on the people that they meet.
  • [22:16] Charlene’s biggest advice to someone interested in becoming a Therapy Dog team is to “just do it”.
  • [22:27] Why she decided to test through Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD).
  • [24:09] Charlene shares that she recently became an ATD Tester/Observer and her desire to be a resource to new and existing dog therapy teams.
  • [24:26] How she makes their visits impactful through extra touches like Christmas gifts and take home items like pawtographs and Therapy Dog trading cards as well as bookmarks and “I read to Grey today” stickers for library reading programs. She also has a website for Grey filled with coloring pages, crossword puzzles, and a word search.
  • [25:19] We talk about Charlene’s Facebook group Over the Top Therapy Dog Teams and her plans to build out a new website as a resource for volunteer pet therapy teams who want to go above and beyond in their visits.
  • [26:19] How her resource website started with helping people who were asking how to find places to volunteer by sharing the way she searched for facilities and the scripts she used to reach out via phone a well as by email.
  • [27:41] Why Charlene dreams of bringing Grey to the Children’s hospital in Pittsburgh when they allow volunteers.
  • [29:05] Charlene shares examples of  strange visits that they encountered.
  • [29:51] What it’s like to have a therapy animal who brings so much joy that you’re requested to come back.
  • [30:42] Charlene talks more about her new website, Therapy Dog Life, that she’s creating as a resource for teams.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I do. Give it a listen and let me know which part you found the most helpful!

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Therapy Dog Talk is a podcast where I interview a different team each week via Instagram Live. If you enjoyed this episode please find us over at Apple, Google, or Spotify and give us a follow after you leave a review.

Do you know someone who would make a great guest? Be sure to reach out and let me know.

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