While Vickie Healey had every intention to adopt a Pit Bull, she was not necessarily looking for her future furry family member to become a therapy dog. In fact, besides wanting their new dog to be a Pit Bull, Vickie and her husband, Mike, had just one other requirement:
“[W]e wanted a dog with a nice disposition and [Coco] fit the bill.”
Coco, a therapy Pit Bull who will turn two in June, has already been through nine months of training, in addition to continuing to attend classes and outings. Vickie began normal training with Coco and from there, she only continued to advance, eventually moving on to training to become a therapy dog. Vickie said:
“We went through [three] rounds of training at PetSmart starting at three months old. [Puppy, Intermediate and Advanced.] That’s when we decided to pursue therapy-related training. Coco is one of the youngest to pass [as] she was one year and a week. A pet had to be one year old before testing. [Additionally,] I had to attend a handler’s class and get my own certification.”
Now Coco and Vickie are a therapy team through Gabriel’s Angels and Pet Partners, whose mission is “to deliver healing pet therapy to at-risk children, nurturing their emotional development and enhancing the quality of their lives forever.”
Coco, who is a huge fan of giving away her Pibble kisses, works as a therapy dog at a multitude of places, including Casa de los Niños, University of Arizona, two nursing care facilities as well as other organizations. Coco visits both children and adults and Vickie ensures that their therapy visits are meeting the needs of each individual.
“We do have lesson plans for the children. …[F]or the older groups, Coco and I mostly walk around either room by room or they come to us [at] a predetermined area.”
One thing that doesn’t change? Coco’s love.
“Coco’s role remains the same, rolling on her back for belly rubs, doing tricks and making people smile and of course, kisses!”
As to be expected when you’re a wiggly, happy Pibble, Coco is becoming something of a doggie celebrity at Casa de los Niños, a non-profit which aims to promote “child well-being and family stability in [their] community.”
“Coco walks in and all the kids call her name.”
While students on college campuses that Coco visits may not have the exact same reaction, her presence is still just as appreciated (and makes us all wish we could go back to college just to pet Coco).
“Coco also helps out at the [University of Arizona] and [Pima Community College] during exam weeks to help relieve students’ stress.”
For Vickie, Coco’s mission as a therapy dog is quite simple.
“Her role as a therapy dog to me is to help kids and adults feel better about things. She also does more than a few tricks while we are visiting and everyone seems to enjoy seeing that and maybe it removes some stress that may be in their lives. Interacting with therapy animals displays a certain level of trust between the animal and the person. Especially with youngsters, this is good therapy.”
Coco is not only impacting the lives of those who she visits in her capacity as a therapy dog but is leaving her mark on her mom’s heart, too.
“Coco has brought me so much joy and then to see the joy [she] is bringing others, what an incredible feeling.”
In addition to Coco’s therapy work, she also raises awareness about Gabriel’s Angels and Pet Partners.
The annual cost to support one therapy team (dog and owner/handler) is $3,500. To help Coco and other therapy dogs like her continue to do their important and needed work, you may donate to Gabriel’s Angels and Pet Partners by clicking here. If you live near the Tucson, AZ area and are interested in becoming a therapy team, you may click here to learn more about volunteering with Gabriel’s Angels and Pet Partners.
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