Class of 2022 therapy dogs celebrate graduation in Gulfport

Published: Jul. 9, 2022 at 10:20 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - More therapy dogs have been added to the Visiting Pet Teams of South Mississippi to help brighten someone’s day.

Saturday, the team had its graduation ceremony to celebrate the dogs’ accomplishments. Whether the dogs are visiting hospitals or nursing homes, the team said one trip makes a difference.

Therapy dog handler Jamie Hobbs said she already has a therapy dog named Sophie that’s 12, but Sophie’s old age urged her to get another therapy dog, Stella.

“Stella is a mess. She loves visiting people in the hospital, she loves the nursing homes, she’ll get up in the bed with them and kiss them to death,” said Hobbs.

However, it took work for Stella to become licensed and join the Visiting Pet Teams of South Mississippi.

Hobbs said our four-legged friends must finish a 21-step training program first.

Hobbs and Stella went through extreme lengths to make sure they were prepared.

“They just can’t react or be afraid of anything. I actually sat outside of a hurricane with her. When the lightening would go off, I’d say ‘pretty, pretty,’” said Hobbs.

Michael Bowin, coordinator of the program, said the volunteers served over 1,800 hours in 2021.

He explained if some folks’ days are rough, the therapy dogs change their mood.

“I see their faces, how it lifts them up. For some people, it’s the only visitor they had for the week, and that’s mostly the nursing home setting,” said Bowin.

Now, with two dogs added to the team and five dogs being recertified after the required two years, the team is trying to get their paws on more handlers to join.

“We’ve got a couple of others that are really wanting pet therapy, but we’re running short on teams,” said Bowin.

“If you’re interested, it’s a fun, fun, rewarding experience. Please get in touch with us and we will help get you started,” said Hobbs.

If you want an establishment to become an approved facility, you must establish a pet policy and provide floor plans, so teams know what to expect.

For more information, you can go to Visiting Pet Teams of South Mississippi’s Facebook page.

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