The Story of Rufus, the Pet Therapy Dog

Rufus is my 3-year old Labradoodle, a Certified Therapy Dog, and an enthusiastic Purina brand ambassador (shameful plug, Rufus!).

As a Purina team member, I know how generously we donate to the CAMH Pet Therapy program each year, supporting a cause that is deeply connected to our passion for pets and supporting the people who love them. It might seem strange that it never crossed my mind to train Rufus to become a pet therapy dog himself – but that all changed when my Grandpa got ill and Rufus showed us his true calling.

How it All Began

The day that my Grandpa turned 90 was also the day that Rufus came into the world. The two of them got along like a house on fire. If soul mates exist, then I’m sure my Grandpa and Rufus were two of them. When my Grandpa became ill, the hospital generously agreed to let Rufus visit at the hospital offering the deep comfort and compassion that only animals seem to possess. I watched as Rufus, still a puppy in his own right, climbed onto my Grandpa’s bed and nuzzled in close beside him. He just stayed there. Offering his comfort and support for his fellow man, his partner-in-crime, at a time when it was needed most. It was in that still moment that I knew what Rufus already was, and what he was officially to become, a Therapy Dog.

Training, Training, Training

Working in a dog-friendly office like Purina, surrounded by puppies all day, is total bliss. Who doesn’t want to be surrounded by happy faces & wagging tails all day? Studies have shown that dogs at work reduce work-related stress and improve productivity (in case you want to mention this to your employer!). But becoming a certified Pet Therapy Dog takes a very special temperament and a whole lot of training.

Every pet therapy program has its own criteria to evaluate a dog’s suitability for this type of work. In our program, some of the evaluation tasks that Rufus had to do to prove he was up to the task were:

  • Walking Through a Crowd – We had to walk loose leash through several small crowds of people while maintaining composure. Any signs of shyness, anxiety, aggression, or jumping would have been an automatic fail. We passed!
  • Calming an Excited Pup – For this one, I had to get Rufus all excited with some new toys (this was the easy part, Rufus loves toys). After he was feeling playful, I had to immediately calm him & have him release the toy, to prove that I had him in my control at all times.
  • Wheelchair Evaluation – in this test, a person in a wheelchair would approach Rufus and offer him a treat. He needed to be receptive to the person and take the treat gently.

Although this may sound like an intimating process, it was a critical component to ensure that Rufus understood what was expected of him (and me too!) in often very stressful situations.

Rufus graduated with honours and was ready for his very first placement.

The First “Official” Visit

It’s very common for a new human volunteer to have a probationary period, and it was no different for Rufus. Rufus had to complete 10 probationary sessions at this first assignment, a hospital, before becoming a fully certified Therapy Dog on the volunteer team.

I will always remember that first day – I was full of nerves, unlike Rufus who was calm as a cucumber (or maybe a carrot, Rufus sure loves carrots!). Although I had seen Rufus provide comfort and happiness to humans he knew, I had not yet seen him provide that level of support to strangers in need until then.

As we were walking down the hospital hallway, a family member of a current patient stopped us to ask if Rufus was a Therapy Dog. After proudly telling her that he was, she proceeded to ask if Therapy Dogs were only for patients, or if a visit would be allowed for the patient’s family, who had just received devastating news that their brother was moving into palliative care. Without hesitation, Rufus and I went directly to the room to meet the patient and his family. During our visit with the patient and family, we shared many smiles, laughs, and stories about their own family dog – while Rufus offered his kindness and wet kisses to everyone – the mood of the room completely changed, it was an incredible moment to witness.

What I Love Most?

The way Rufus is able to walk into a room and bring comfort to people he’s never met, often during their darkest hours, is something that keeps us going back. It’s not only therapy for the humans we visit, but also for me.

How You Can Help & Get Help

If you would like to make a donation to support Pet Therapy programs in Canada, we at Purina very proudly support the CAMH Pet Therapy program.

Learn More about Alyson & Rufus

Alyson Kerr is a Marketing Manager for dog treats at Purina Canada. Her buddy Rufus can be found by her side, ensuring she’s telling all his fellow Canadian doggies how yummy Beggin’ is & how DentaLife has brightened his smile. Rufus can also be found on Instagram @rufusthetherapydog sharing his adventures of life as a kind and compassionate Therapy Dog.