In his own words as told to Pat Athey, HABIC therapy dog Winston shares his story about moving to Colorado and working as a therapy dog.
My name is Winston and I’m one of the luckiest dogs in the whole wide world. My owner, Pat, rescued me from a shelter in LA when I was about a year old and I flew on an airplane (man, was that scary!) and came to Fort Collins, where I have been happily living for seven years. I was destined to be a certified therapy dog because when her aunt was in hospice, Pat met a therapy dog for the first time. Pat knew from that moment on if she ever got a dog, it would do wonderful things like that therapy dog.
Pat knew all about the HABIC program because she played tennis with the original HABIC founder, Georgia Granger, and they played in HABIC benefit tournaments. So when she rescued me, she enrolled me in the best schools possible so I would be prepared. My first training, of course, was at HABIC which I completed in 2015.
I’ve also taken classes at the Canine Learning Center: obedience (where I learned to do whatever I was commanded, canine good citizenship (I went to public places and learned to interact appropriately), and for fun I got to go to an agility class where I learned to weave through poles, jump hurdles and run through tunnels. Since I knew I would be working with individuals and with groups, I also took a special tricks class at Summit Dog Training.
The tricks I am most proud of are putting a ball through a small child’s basketball hoop, putting my toys away, and jumping through Pat’s arms when she makes a circle with them like a hula hoop. I was always the littlest one in the classes, but I learned not to be afraid and it’s no problem being around big dogs now.
Now that I’m in the HABIC program I get to show off all the things I’ve learned and go to different places and make people happy. When I worked in a grade school, I got to know a little girl who was afraid because she had been taken away from her parents who did really bad things. Since I know what it’s like to be scared (remember the plane ride and those big dogs in my classes?) and also because I lost my first home and owners, I could empathize with her and make her feel special. That made both of us happy, including Pat.
I love little kids, but I also have a way with the “older generation” who have had to leave their homes and live with lots of people their own ages. I know it’s hard for them and they get lonely there, so my job is to just go around and be with them, show them some of the commands I have learned, and generally just make them feel better. I met one special lady on my first job who looked forward to having us visit every week. Her son even gave me a special toy which I still have that reminds me of her. I miss her terribly, but I know I made her last days the best they could be.
My favorite assignment so far has been the CSU de-stress clinics. It’s the easiest job I’ve had, but also the most fun. Groups of college students get to come sit on the floor and pet me and tell me about their dogs at home that they miss. Sometimes they even show me pictures. I get to show off the commands I’ve learned and play games, like find the treat under the cups.
My last 2 assignments have been in mental health treatment centers. I don’t really understand what these people are dealing with, but I know I make them (and the staff) feel better about their problems by just being there. I can sense that they are hurting and I give them special cuddling and loving to help make their hurts go away.
Whenever I see my HABIC bag come out of the closet and I get my red bandana on, I get so excited because I know we get to go to work and make people smile. I never care where my assignments are, or what age groups I will be with, I just know that it gives me work to do and a purpose in life. Pat tells me she feels the same way. I’m so glad we found each other and that we get to do this together for the HABIC program.
Winston the Wonder Dog (and Pat)
About Human-Animal Bond in Colorado
Founded in 1993, Human-Animal Bond in Colorado (HABIC) is a center in the School of Social Work, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. HABIC’s mission is to improve the quality of life for people of all ages through the therapeutic benefits of companion animals, with particular focus in the areas of community outreach, teaching, and research.
HABIC volunteer teams make a difference in Colorado communities by providing animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapies. Please visit us at HABIC.org to learn more about volunteering with your animal.