The most accepted terms for this field are Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) and Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA). AAT involves working with someone when a specific goal has been identified. If you do this as a volunteer, you will work with a professional who will assist you in selecting goals for different individuals. AAA are those activities designed to strengthen someone's quality of life. Usually performed by volunteers, they are generally "meet and greet" activities.


Meet Cancer Treatment Grant Recipient: Alf

Alf has been active for many years as a therapy dog. His mom,
Cathy Schuchman, contacted the foundation the first week of February 2011 about obtaining a Working Dog Cancer Treatment Grant. Here is Cathy's story about his work and her special guy, Alf:


Alf began his working life as a racing greyhound in Florida. His professional racing name was Watch That Scene. Alf was his kennel name. I suspect he was given that name because of his long nose, much like that of the TV show puppet, Alf. Because he did not do well in his maiden races, Alf was retired at the age of two. That is when he came into my life and what experiences we have shared.

Less than a year after I adopted Alf, we moved to New York and became involved in BideAWee’s Pet Therapy program. Many people think that greyhounds are high activity dogs ill suited to be pets, much less therapy dogs. In reality they are very calm dogs, used to being around a lot of different people. Alf is especially suited for therapy work. Calm is his middle name. Our first assignment was A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility. We worked a rotating schedule so visited different floors each visit.

Alf’s favorite group was the section for men in early stages dementia. On our first visit, we met a group of men in the floor lounge. They made a big fuss over Alf, and Alf, who is partial to men, was in his glory. As we were walking around the room, Alf and I noticed a small man slumped over in a wheelchair. The facility representative who accompanied us during our visits explained the man in the wheelchair used to be a groom at nearby Belmont Race Track and he tended to many racehorses during his career. Alf slowly walked over to the wheelchair and the man began to massage Alf’s neck. The nurses and aides began to gather at the lounge door in awe of the man’s responses to Alf. I imagined him massaging the racehorses’ necks as he massaged Alf. On our next visit, this gentleman met us at the ward’s entrance and walked with us to the lounge.

Alf developed corns on his front feet and the tile floors in A. Holly Patterson proved to be too much for him. Not a quitter, Alf focused his therapy work on BideAWee’s Reading to Dogs program. It has been proven that children who are behind in their reading skills are reluctant to read. That is unless it is to an animal. Dogs are especially suited for this job.

Alf first began this new task at local libraries. Usually the children who attended these reading sessions were good readers. Because Alf is so big and probably because he is black, many children would pick the smaller dogs first. But Alf and I soon came up with a sure fire tactic. It worked best with boys. I would ask Alf’s prospective reader if he liked professional sports, who his favorite team was, then who his favorite player was. As soon as I was given a team or a name I had them hooked. I would go on to tell them Alf was a professional athlete just like their hero, that his sport was racing, and that he raced in a large stadium under bright lights with people in the stands cheering him on. They usually plopped right down on the floor, opened their book and began reading.

One session two brothers approached. The older boy clearly letting off the vibes that he thought this entire dog reading was far beneath him nudged his brother forward. I went into our professional athlete spiel. The older brother listened then quietly left the room. After the younger boy finished his book I looked up to see the older brother standing quietly with a book in his hands. Softly he asked if he could read to Alf. Of course!

We were assigned Wilson Elementary School as our full time assignment. Alf worked with second grade students who needed extra help with reading. The first year each student read independently to Alf. After that first year, the children read in groups of three to four. I explained that since Alf used to be a professional athlete, they were his new team. Each group came up with a team name and we came up with team rules such as be quiet when someone was reading and no making fun of someone if they made a mistake. Typical team names were Great Readers and Alf’s Readers. These children who had trouble reading and didn’t like to read soon became excited about reading because they were reading to Alf. It was humbling watching them improve throughout the year, helping each other and supporting each other.

There are so many stories to tell of Alf’s time at Wilson. Like the time the held a fire drill. Who doesn’t remember that ear-splitting alarm? As it went off I panicked, sure that Alf would freak out and a freaked racing dog is extremely hard to handle. Alf surprised me. He calmly got up, got in line and followed the children out of the school. He quietly stood in line on the sidewalk until it was time to go back in. He stayed in line as we walked back into the building, and laid down on his bed like nothing had happened and waited for the children to continue their reading. Another time a second grade classroom emptied as we walked by to cries of “A dog, a dog in school!” A puzzled teacher, who luckily had a smile on her face, followed the children out of the room.

Alf was diagnosed with Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC) of the bladder last fall. His vet calls his chemo protocol “Blue Angel”. So crafty person that I am, I took one of Alf’s old race blankets and ironed on a patch I made of a Navy Blue Angel and the words Not Today and Not without a Fight. I really don’t know if Blue Angel refers to an angel dressed in blue or the Navy’s Blue Angels so I made an executive decision and chose the Navy. I liked the idea of the Navy elite watching my dog’s back. Alf wears his Blue Angel blanket when he has chemo.

Alf had to stop going to school but the spirit of a therapy dog has not left him. He loves to walk up to strangers, gently nudging them with his nose and patiently waiting to be petted. He especially likes to go up to children. Alf’s vet tech has requested that he be her therapy dog if she ever has to go to the hospital. While there is no cure for TCC, Alf is feeling much better since his treatments began and he will always be on medication for his tumor. But no matter what his future holds, in his heart I know he sees himself as a Therapy Dog.


This wonderful message comes from Cathy:

Alf is doing well. His tumor shrunk a little bit, but the vet is very encouraged with his status. We are going to a Reading to Dogs event today, Alf's first session since he was diagnosed with cancer. I told him we were going to school today and every time I get up, he gets up. I'm looking forward to seeing how he does. He's looking forward to going.

Thank you again for the grant  and keep up your good work.

JUNE 11, 2011 UPDATE
Sadly, we just received this message from Cathy:

It breaks my heart to notify you of Alf's passing early this morning. Alf started favoring his right front leg Thursday. By Friday morning he needed help up the steps to get back in the house. By Friday evening it was painful for him to walk. A trip to the emergency vet, the same clinic where he was being treated for TCC, revealed that he had a broken leg, near the shoulder joint and the vet diagnosed osteosarcoma. Alf was put to rest shortly after midnight.

I want to thank you again for the grant that helped with Alf's cancer treatment bills. Without them he would have died last fall. Alf was sweet and so stoic right to the end. I miss my big boy.