Pug Therapy at Garden Place

Ina Dunlap is a ShelterCare volunteer, along with her two pugs, certified therapy dogs Sammy and Jiminy. Ina and the pugs make regular stops at ShelterCare’s Garden Place, where the residents look forward to their “pug therapy” sessions. Ina has been a ShelterCare volunteer for several years, and says she loves seeing how much joy the dogs can bring to people’s lives. We asked Ina to share a little bit more about how she became a volunteer and why she chose to work with dogs.

How did you learn about the ShelterCare volunteer program and what prompted you to get involved?

Originally I started volunteering at the Heeran Center when it was under ShelterCare management. ShelterCare contacted PAAWS (People and Animals Who Serve), a networking group for local Project Canine pet therapy teams, looking for a pet therapy team. I started there with Ricky, one of my previous therapy dogs, and then with Sammy. About two years ago I began bringing the dogs to Garden Place and working with the residents there.

Have you always been a dog person?

As a child I had cats, and when I got married, I wanted a cat.  My husband wanted a pug. The pug won me over!

Why pugs?

My husband’s family had a pug when he was growing up, and he loved her dearly.  So when we got married and got a place where we could have pet, we got a pug and a cat. Although I loved the cat, the pug stole my heart. Pugs have been a part of my life for 35 years now.  Sammy is our 6th pug, and Jiminy is our 7th. Sammy is the fourth pet therapy dog, and Jiminy is the fifth. I love the bubbly pug personality; they make you smile no matter what. They make all sorts of funny sounds…like snorts and grunts…it’s the best. And they are wonderful cuddlers. Both pug boys sleep with us at night.

Tell us about the process Jiminy and Sammy went through to earn their certifications

Each pug and I have gone through a four-hour workshop where we learn about therapy animal best practices, zoonotic diseases, reading signs of stress in dogs, and insurance requirements. Step 2 is a team skills test evaluating how the dog and handler work together as a pet therapy team, and how they handle basic obedience skills and exposure to a variety of distractions commonly experienced during pet therapy visits. There is also an oral exam covering the material from the workshop. All dogs must be up-to-date on vaccinations. Step 3 is a mentoring component, where prospective teams learn from experienced teams and then visit with an experienced team available to coach and assist. We are reevaluated as a team every two years.

What keeps you coming back to volunteer each year?

I love sharing my pugs with people.  The smiles on people’s faces when they see Sammy or Jiminy make my day. Some days at work, nothing seems to go quite right. But when I come home and take one of the pug boys to visit folks, all the stress from the day melts away, a smile pops up on my face, and I’m suddenly having a great day. Pet therapy visits are my passion. I am also the recording secretary for PAAWS. 

What is the best thing or funniest thing that’s happened to you while volunteering at Garden Place?

I usually visit on Saturday after dinner in the TV room. Sometimes it’s movie night. One of the residents decided he would pick out a movie especially for Sammy, so he chose 101 Dalmatians. It was the animated version, and Sammy curled up on the couch with the residents, watching closely, because he does watch TV at home. One of the scenes is “Twilight Barking” where all the dogs are barking to share information. Sammy really thought he should join in, and let out a couple of little woofs, something he doesn’t usually do. We got lots of smiles that night.

What is your fondest memory of volunteering at Garden Place?

When Sammy first started pet therapy visits, calming down was hard for him. Several of the residents at Garden were great, helping him settle down in a recliner next to them. They also cheered for his tricks as he was learning “shake hands”, and “high five.” I love the smiles on people’s faces. 

When your friends/family find out that you volunteer, what to do they say or ask?

Because I visit at a juvenile detention center and the state hospital in Junction City, as well as Garden Place, people often ask if I ever have situations where I am afraid or in danger. I tell them that in all the places I visit, the staff is wonderful.  They make sure I am safe, and, if it’s not a good day to visit, they let me know, and I don’t stay. The other thing people ask is what it takes to get started in Pet Therapy. I explain the process and tell them it is the best thing I get to do in my life and so very worth it. 

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

My Mom was 40 and my Dad was 50 when I was born. Also, I moved to an apartment next to the State Penitentiary in Salem when I was 19.

What do you do when you aren’t volunteering?

I work full time for PeaceHealth Lab for 33 years now, so that takes up a large part of my time. In my spare time I enjoy spending time with my husband. The pug boys are often in classes, and we are always training. They love to learn new tricks! 

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