Has holiday bustle got you feeling a little…stressed? You’re not alone. We all know that parceled in with the holiday season typically is a whole lot of tension, fatigue, and anxiety. For those in search of a little relief, if just some momentary peace, we propose some warm and fuzzy therapy that doesn’t cost a thing. It’s been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce tension and anxiety, boost immunity, and lessen fatigue. But don’t take our word for it. Instead, take a few moments to meet Avery, or any one of her fellow therapists. We guarantee you’ll be rewarded for your time with some added sunshine and smiles you didn’t even realize were quite so needed.
Avery Yarrish Hobart is not your typical therapist. For one thing, she’s four years old. She’s strong, however, weighing in at 63 pounds. And as you’ll have by now presumed, she is a dog. An English cream golden retriever, to be specific.
Longmonsters Bridget Hobart and Mark Yarrish brought Avery into their family four years ago this past July. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Longmont from Boulder, and fell in love with our #healthyLongmont community. “We immediately wanted to give back,” says Bridget. “We wanted to add to the sense of community.”
The couple began brainstorming ideas through which they could become more involved in supporting community. Noting their new puppy’s sweet, mellow disposition, the idea of getting trained as pet therapy volunteers came up. Not long after, while out for lunch with Avery, they experienced a brief, chance encounter that clinched it. “Two women were also at the restaurant, one who was developmentally disabled,” Bridget shares. “The woman came over and just picked up Avery. As she held her, there was this instant calm bond between them. As the woman pet our dog, we could see this smile wash over her face. Her companion commented that she’d never seen her friend so happy. We’d just been talking about Avery becoming a therapy dog. We were so moved. That sealed it.”
Bridget and Mark lost no time in trying to enroll Avery in Longmont United Hospital’s training program—and were put on a two-year waiting list. Rather than feeing daunted, they celebrated the implications of the program’s popularity. “We thought , what a great town that we live in, that this is so competitive! A two-year waiting list for a dog to volunteer at the hospital!” says Bridget. “That reaffirmed the choice we’d made, moving to Longmont.”
When Avery was finally admitted into the pet therapy program, there was no room for slacking. In order to qualify, the family had to become members of two organizations: ATD (Alliance of Therapy Dogs), and Longmont United Hospital’s TAILS (Therapeutic Animals in Loving Service). Avery, as well as parents Mark and Bridget, had to pass numerous tests, including for her ability to focus on her owner and task at hand in public settings. She had to listen on command without reaction amid distractions, such as the likes of pots banged in her face, yelling, and general commotion. She had to follow numerous instructions, eventually in trial situations where therapy dogs are allowed. Mark and Bridget each had to demonstrate their abilities with Avery, showing how the dog-owner pair worked as a team. Avery passed with flying colors, passing her Good Citizen test as well.
Now one year into volunteering as of this past fall, Mark and Bridget find themselves continually inspired and astounded at the impact therapy animals can make. “We’d watched videos and knew a bit what to expect, but never in a million years would we have really expected the depth of the healing and bonding we’ve gotten the fortune to witness,” Bridget says. “People come alive, truly. Even if the contact is just momentary, these animals offer very unique, unconditional love. Avery goes in and lights people’s lives. Even those who are wary or hesitant at first. For a minute they forget about their illness or afflictions. I hear all the time from people how she’s made their day. The words of affirmation after visits…sometimes I’m made speechless. I walk away in tears.”
Of course, Avery and crew can’t just trot into the hospital brightening days at random. Rigorous hygienic precautions are taken before and after visits. Volunteers always check in with doctors for particular restrictions. They also check in with doctors to give them a little bit of…may we say pawsome…therapy, too. “Those nurses and doctors have really stressful days,” says Bridget. “We’re here for them, too. Over time, we’ve become familiar with may staff as well as patients.They pet the dogs, and they experience these glimmers of relief as well.”
As she’s developed into her role as a therapy dog, Avery’s caring ministrations have branched out beyond the hospital as well. She has gone to visit Boy Scout groups, for example, to show and talk about therapy dogs, got to know other dogs and owners. Bridget describes how in one group session, a boy hesitantly asked softly whether petting dogs can help with depression. She responded affirmatively, inviting him to try, and as he did she observed his face relax and bloom. “I held back tears,” she says. “That was really special.”
Since becoming a therapy dog, Mark and Bridget notice she seems to have even further developed remarkable sense of intuition. “I think she knows that letting people pet her brings them joy,” Bridget says. “She’s so empathic. In any given room, she seems to sense who needs the most stress relief. She gravitates right to them.” As for Bridget and Mark, they’ve evolved throughout the experience, too. “We want to do more,” Bridget says. “ We’re not gonna stop here. We want to give back to our community in more ways, because we see the results in each small outreach. So many positive results.”
Thank you, Bridget, Mark and not least Avery, for your caring, commitment, and hard work. You do make our community doggone proud!