Therapy dogs bring love, comfort to Winston-Salem

By Jenny Drabble, Winston-Salem Journal  

Top of Form Bottom of Form Evie is the world’s best listener.

She also has four legs and a fluffy tail.

As a therapy dog, the 109-pound black and brown ball of fur is trained to provide affection and comfort to those in need.

“At home, we’ll dress Evie up in tutus and tiaras, but when the vest goes on, she knows it’s all business, time to work,” said owner Maurice Minns, who has three therapy dogs and one in training.

“She knows how to spot the person in the room who needs her the most.”

Sprawled on the floor at UNC School of the Arts, Evie, and fellow therapy dog, Nanook, were magnets for attention Wednesday afternoon.

Students melted at the sight of her, stopping to give the pups high-fives and hugs.

“I miss my dog so much. He’s a pug,” said Amanda Grad, a first-year student from Brooklyn, N.Y. “This is such a great surprise.”

Drama student Christian Jimenez echoed her excitement. Growing up, he got a taste of having a dog as a pet when his parents, both detectives in New York, brought home a K-9 unit dog for a couple of weeks, he said.

“I love these cute little dogs,” Jimenez said, giving Nanook a hug.

“Life gets really hectic, so this is a good escape and it definitely brought my happiness level up 100 percent.”

Nanook and Evie are part of the 15 teams of therapy dogs in Winston-Salem-based Fostering Friendship.

The organization was established in May 2016, through the Elite Canine training center on Reynolda Road.

While therapy dogs traditionally visit hospitals and nursing homes, Fostering Friendship does that and more, founder Geralyn Kelly said.

“We visit hospitals, colleges, businesses, whoever needs us,” Kelly said.

“Our main goal is, if someone calls, to never say no.”

In the past year, the dogs have visited a variety of places, she said, including the Kate B. Reynolds Hospice Home, Arbor Acres United Methodist Retirement Community and local elementary schools for their reading buddy program.

The therapy dogs also visit different memory care units, which is amazing to behold, Kelly said.

One older man in particular has a memory impairment, but every time he sees therapy dog Layla, he begins singing lyrics from “Layla,” the classic rock song by Eric Clapton.

“You see them flashing back, talking about their own dogs from the past. It’s very powerful,” Kelly said.

“It makes people happy, and we just want to give back to the community, plain and simple.”

The dog therapy teams are made up of all different breeds, including border collies, German shepherds and even pit bulls, which Kelly said, despite the stigma, are some of the sweetest ones.

And, who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

In three weeks, 9-year-old Story, a German Wirehaired pointer rescue, will join the ranks of local therapy dogs along with seven other human-dog pairs.

The teams are all volunteer-based, but must be certified beforehand. Prospective therapy dogs have to undergo a minimum of 30 weeks of training and pass a final test, which includes basic commands and distraction exercises before they are certified, Kelly said.

For Kelly — who is a dog trainer by trade and offers classes at her training center — the therapy dog program is priceless.

While Fostering Friendship has been around for a short time, it has already brought untold happiness rooted in the magic of a dog’s unconditional love, Kelly said. “Dogs are such amazing creatures, they really do know when someone needs them,” she said. “They don’t care what you look like or how much money you make. They’re there because they love you.”