Therapy dogs bring cheer, comfort

Linda & Dave Causton with Muppet & Snickers

Two furry friends specialize in bringing smiles and joy to young and old alike. Just about everyone they see is excited to see and pet them.

Muppet and Snickers, both Goldendoodles, are therapy dogs who volunteer with their owners, Linda and Dave Causton, at Riverwood Healthcare Center in Aitkin.  Now seven years old, they spend Tuesday mornings visiting the lobbies of Riverwood’s hospital and clinic. With a hiatus from March 2020 to June 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2023 marks the fifth year of Caustons’ pet therapy service to Riverwood.

“We love bringing our dogs to Riverwood weekly,” Linda Causton said. “They look forward to their visits and thoroughly enjoy the time they spend with patients, volunteers and employees.”

Both Muppet and Snickers completed training through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, which provides testing, certification, registration, support, and insurance for members who volunteer with dogs to visit hospitals, special needs centers, schools, nursing homes, and other facilities.

A therapy dog is different from a service dog. A service dog has been trained to perform specific tasks for a person with a disability. A therapy dog volunteers with its pet parent to provide comfort and support to people in schools, hospitals and assisted living facilities.

Ryan Henry, LPN, with Muppet & Snickers

Riverwood Chief Nursing Officer Carla Zupko commented on the benefits of pet therapy.

“We are very grateful that the Causton’s bring Muppet and Snickers in to see our patients,” Zupko said. “Pet therapy dogs can reduce stress, promote healing, lower blood pressure and lift spirits. They also have brought comfort and joy to our staff as well.”

The Causton’s bring Muppet and Snickers to the hospital nursing station and get directed to the patients who want the dogs to visit.

“We typically have about a half dozen patients every week who say yes, especially those who are missing their dogs at home,” explained Stephanie Nyberg, health unit coordinator. “We think Muppet and Snickers are wonderful. Our patients love them. They bring such joy to our staff as well and are a big stress reliever.”

Pet therapy need
“Dave and I are getting older and will not be able to do the pet therapy for too much longer, so we would like to encourage others to consider this volunteer opportunity,” Linda Causton said. “We would be happy to talk to anyone who has an interest and let them know how to get a dog certified for pet therapy.”

Dave and Linda Causton can be reached at 218-927-9939.