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Two Furry Friends bring Goodwill and Smiles to Travelers in Rhode Island

By Brittni Henderson

German Shepherds have always been a part of the Smith family of Harrisville. Bruce and Sheila have shared their home with these majestic animals for many years, but up until a few years ago, their pets lived a fairly common canine lifestyle. They currently have three pups of this breed—Arrow, 11; Tripper, 7; and Friar, 6—but two of them have a very special job.

Friar, their youngest, was bred by a group of monks from upstate New York—hence his name. He was bred to become a therapy dog, a very unique trait for young pups to possess. This inspired the Smith family to enroll in a local course to see if he would be a good fit for the local therapy dog scene.

In May 2013, the Smiths enrolled in the Professional Pet Facilitator course at CCRI. This is the only program in the state that qualifies pets and their owners to obtain this certification. About a year later, after coursework and clinical work were complete, Friar was ready to begin his career as a local therapy dog.

He would visit local libraries and nursing homes, participating in different programs at each location. Many reading programs across the state include the opportunity to read to dogs like Friar for a set amount of time, allowing the children to work on their reading and comprehension skills. Many times, these young readers would finish a book and move on to learn commands like “sit” and “stay.” Other times, it becomes a truly sweet experience of friendship blossoming between child and dog.

At the nursing homes, Friar would perform one-on-one visits with residents who either previously owned dogs or who love to be around the furry friends. Residents also work with treat commands with the animal, sometimes playing “hide the treat” to see if he could find the treat that is hidden somewhere in their room.

About two years ago, T.F. Green Airport became one of the few other airports in the United States to offer therapy dogs throughout the terminals to help those frightened or nervous of flying. Around the same time, Friar’s sister Tripper joined in on the fun, completing the course to also become a therapy dog.

The two dogs started volunteering their time at the airport, becoming a dynamic duo known by many staff and visitors to the bustling travel hub. Every time they put on their “special” work vests, they know it’s time to go help people. Before they work, they are groomed and ample treats are packed.

“They are like Good Will Ambassadors,” Bruce shares.

The dogs, as well as their owners, have met people from all over the world that are traveling through Providence. Most of the people who approach them are pet owners who miss their animals at home, allowing them to have a bit of puppy love before their trip begins.

The dogs’ business cards have been passed out to hundreds, and some people try to plan their travel around their schedule! One family even snapped a photo with the dogs and included the dogs’ card in their newborn baby’s book to capture that memory forever.

The dogs have free reign over the airport, but stay away from the food areas for fur purposes. They also know to stay away from passenger dogs who may not be as friendly, as well as security dogs who are there working, too.

Friar and Tripper have been involved in this touching program for about a year and a half, and will continue doing so as long as they are healthy and able. There is continuing education that they must complete to sustain their certification, but these dogs and their owners are excited to see what the future holds for their careers.