Stewie, a large brindle colored dog sits focusing intently on the lake at Eastside Park. Suddenly he darts to the sidewalk, his long white-tipped tail wagging rapidly. His owner, Jill Edwards, turns from the bench she is sitting on to see a little boy and his mom who want to pet Stewie. With wide-eyes the little boy pets the massive dog.
"He's very friendly," said Edwards. "He's just a big, mixed breed and he is the best dog I've ever had."
The mother and little boy walk away and Stewie refocuses his attention on the Canada geese squawking nearby.
"We've had Stewie since March of 2010. He was left in an ice storm with his mother. We fostered him at first and he played and got along really well with the other dog we had at the time. He's just so good natured."
Stewie's good nature and laid back attitude encouraged Edwards to enroll him in the Tri-State K9 University. The K9 University offers courses that vary from basic dog obedience to the K9 Angels Therapy Dog course that Stewie took to become a therapy dog. To take part in the therapy dog course, Stewie had to complete four courses of dog obedience, take the canine good citizen test and a therapy dog test.
Edwards said her daughter took Stewie through all the training.
"He used to go to St. Mary's Hospital on a regular basis. The people there loved him. We'd dress him up for holidays. Stewie has ties for the different holidays and he has jerseys he wears during basketball season," said Edwards.
Edwards said locally Stewie has been Washington Nursing Center several times to visit their residents. "He hasn't been able to go as much since we moved but he really enjoys going. He knows when he puts on his special vest that he's working," said Edwards with a grin. "He loves seeing all the residents."
Occasionally, Stewie gets to go to work with Edwards at Four Rivers. "He really likes to go there and the residents love to have him visit."
Edwards says that she hopes Stewie will be able to visit more people in need in this area. "It's amazing what these dogs can do for patients," she said. Edwards mentioned one patient who had been in a coma and doctors had given her little hope. "I let Stewie lick her hands and she opened her eyes," said Edwards.
Therapy dogs are becoming more popular with many medical practices across the country. Mayo Clinic has had a therapy dog in residence since 2002. The Mayo Clinic website also sites that animal-assisted therapy can help to reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and fatigue in patients with variable health conditions.