Sydney Sack

Special Correspondent


Photographer and owner of Henry Studios, Rich Powers, recently announced that his personal dogs, Spencer, 8, and Penny, 5, passed their certification to become therapy dogs.


Therapy dogs have been more prominent in today’s society. Whether used for coping with a loss or just to feel more secure, they are a very important part of therapy treatments.


Powers said that his first interest came from bringing his dogs into the nursing  home his mother had been in. “It was quite rewarding because they just lit up when they saw my dog… you see these people who are so happy just to touch them, because… they just sort of exhibit some sort of love or passion for life… that people just kind of pick right up on,” he said.


During the dogs’ certification test, they did an amazing job. “Thankfully they both passed the obedience part. My dogs are very well socialized because they come to work with me every single day,” Powers said.


While taking the test to become certified therapy dogs, they were faced with only one complication. One part of the test involves having food held in front of and/or shoved in the dog’s face. This teaches dogs to leave food alone that is not expressly given to them.  Powers said “the food part was a little different than what I actually expected it to be, only because it was… literally raining munchkins down on my dogs heads.”


Therapy dogs can be used for a variety of activities. He said, he uses his dogs in his photography “constantly. I’ve had people in here, with special needs… and they help calm them down.”  


Powers recalls, “I did a senior portrait, going back about a decade or so, and he [the boy] had a lot of issues, communication, birth defects, he had a lot going on. And at the end of the session, and it brings a tear to my eye now, he was on the floor giving Misty his phone number. It was so sweet.”


Powers said he didn’t need to be qualified to train the dogs for their certification. “You just have to know what the test is.” He added that he worked with a professional trainer for his first dog, and he used what he learned and applied it to his other dogs.


He ended up getting his first golden retriever as a friend for his first ever dog. He originally had a rescue cocker spaniel whom he thought needed a companion. Once he brought the golden home, he said “that’s it. There’s no other breed for me.” Powers said that golden retrievers are “the most friendly, outgoing, intelligent dog I’ve ever met. They’re kind of really perfect for this.”


Once therapy dogs become certified, they are welcome in more situations. Powers is hoping to start bringing them into places where therapy dogs are needed.


He said, “I’d go anywhere. I’m trying to go to the high school. I know Holliston High does not allow it for some reason.” He added that he had asked the high school previously and he’s gotten turned down.


Therapy dogs help provide relief in many different situations. Powers said “it would’ve been nice to bring them in for Madame Caccavale passing… because that was kind of devastating to a lot of people, myself included… she was a great person.”


He added that he wants to ask the high school about potentially having them in the courtyard that way if kids wanted to, they could go out and see the dogs, and if they didn’t want to then they didn’t have to.


Now that they’re certified, Powers is hoping that people will be more open to the idea.


Therapy dogs have been used for as long as many can remember; however the definition of one has become slightly misconstrued.


Therapy dogs and service/assistance dogs are not the same things. According to the American Kennel Club, “Therapy dogs are dogs who go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.” And service dogs “are dogs who are specially trained to perform specific tasks to help a person who has a disability.”


According to the head trainer at The Happy Retriever, Dorothy Turcotte, “a therapy dog needs a lot… to do it right we start in the puppy class so that we can get their basic obedience and their socialization down…” She said they even play a medical CD in the background of their classes.


By doing this, they are able to adjust the dogs to the noises they might hear in an actual hospital setting. Once dogs finish the puppy class and learn how to socialize in different settings, Turcotte said, “then we move them into more advanced obedience… we try to follow all the steps that Therapy Dog International uses.”


Therapy Dog International has many different chapters.


Patricia Gipps, head of the Therapy Dog International chapter in Framingham and owner of Caring Paws, said “the dog has to have very good basics; come, sit, stay, down, leave it because those are the basics that you need.”

Gipps added, “leave it is very important because if you go into a hospital and there’s a pill on the floor…we want the dog to leave it…if they ate it they would be very sick.”


“What’s really rewarding is that I get to have other people enjoy the joy that I feel.” She said she not only gets to spread her joy while she is visiting, but when she is evaluating other people’s dogs to go out and “spread that same joy,” Gipps said.


Therapy dogs are beginning to play a larger role in therapy treatments for people with a variety of needs. Powers hopes that his dogs will be used to aid people in and around Holliston, allowing for a greater connection between dogs and people. Screenshot 2017-06-14 at 2.34.39 PM

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