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Pet therapy non-profit needs help bringing smiles to those in need

Posted at 8:52 AM, Feb 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-20 23:26:25-05

Walking down the hall, this doctor gets smiles from everyone. Sometimes that will be the only smile the person gives that day.

This doctor is special, he doesn't have a degree, wears a vest instead of a smock, and no shoes. He's also pretty slobbery if you get close.

Milo may not be a real doctor, but he came to Johns Hopkins Children's Center to do some healing of his own.

His patient Friday was Ailee Dixon, 17, who suffers from nine separate illnesses, like mitochondrial disease and POTTS Syndrome, making every day difficult for thin Ailee.

She explained this keeps her from eating, walking and "In my case it makes me go unconscious multiple times a day even while sitting... That causes my joints to dislocate on a daily thing... So I have to be fed through my small intestine."

Her dyed red hair reminds you she's a tough teen, despite her frail exterior. She remains optimistic throughout every trial and tribulation, "Every single person has something they have to carry with them everyday, this is my awesomeness, it's just what I gotta do," She said laughing. "I've been going through this since I was two, so I'm used to all of this craziness."

Crazy beeps, tangles of tubes and continuous time in the hospital. She and her mom only spent a few weeks home last year, making her long for those comforts, like her Chihuahua, Noya.

Friday, Milo was her snuggle bug. Her face lit up seeing him, and she didn't let him go the entire time he laid on her hospital bed.

Milo helped her tune out her sterile surroundings and focus on previous visits from pet therapy dogs.

"Joker would like go on a skateboard and jump through hoops and dance. It was really cute and as little 8-year-old me, I loved that," she said chuckling.

Milo has a talent of his own, singing. (Well more like howling in tune.) 

Ailee loved it, folding over laughing.

"Dogs are good stress relievers, are a good way to calm down because when you get home after a rough day what do you want to do? If you have a pet, you just want to go and cuddle with that pet,"  Ailee said.

Sadly for patients like Ailee, the pool of furry friends is shrinking from a lapse in trained dogs, leaving National Capital Therapy Dogs in desperate need of volunteers.

"There's not a single place we go that we can't use more help," Baltimore Regional Director for NCTD Barbara Laricos said.

The volunteer run organization helps people with various needs, from the hospital, to nursing homes and psychiatric facilities. Right now they have 24 teams for 15 facilities.

If you want to enroll your pet to be a volunteer, here's the prerequisites:

  • Dogs must have passed the AKC Canine Good Citizen test 
  • You should be at least 16 years old to work without an adult
  • Only certain domesticated animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits and pet birds may become NCTD therapy animals
  • Dogs must be at least 10 months old to begin Therapy Dog Training Classes, and 1 year old to take the Evaluation.
  • Dogs need to be in good health, be current with their rabies vaccine and have a health form filled out by their veterinarian
  • Dogs must have lived with you for at least six months
  • Dogs must currently have reliable basic obedience skills:
    • Sit, Down, Stay on command
    • Walk on loose leash (no pulling handler, or dragging behind)
  • Dogs must be reliably housebroken
  • For other types of pets, please Contact Us

Then you can sign up for a handler class. The next one is March 24th at GBMC, and the next therapy dog class is March 31.

An effort to bring more smiles to those in need.