Certified therapy poodle brings hope, happiness

By Drew Veskauf

For a dog, being man’s best friend is one thing, but to be certified for therapy is a whole different world.

Former NIU office manager Sharon Pflaumer and her black miniature poodle, Jester, make their way around to local nursing homes, assisted living facilities, retirement centers and the cancer center to help those who are in need of therapy, especially those with Alzheimer’s disease.

“The dog can act like a bridge between the confusion in their mind,” Pflaumer said. “The dog can momentarily bring them back to the present.”

Jester became certified for therapy in 2005 and has made 275 visits over the past five years.

To Pflaumer, the most memorable of these visits was when Jester made a patient speak the word “dog” as the two turned to walk away. Later, the nurse told Pflaumer the patient had not spoken for three months.

“There’s a whole lot of benefits that can be derived from therapy with dogs,” Pflaumer said. “Interacting with an animal makes you feel better.”

Therapy through a dog can have several benefits. When a person strokes or pets the animal, it can help temporarily lower blood pressure, slow the heart rate and relieve anxiety, Pflaumer said.

When Pflaumer first retired from NIU, she and Jester would make two visits to local nursing homes and a visit to Kishwaukee Community Hospital each week. Now, the two make two visits per week, since it’s too stressful for the dog to do three, Pflaumer said.

Aside from her visits, Pflaumer submits informative articles to several animal magazines, including Animal Wellness, Dog World, Dog News, K9 Magazine, Poodle Review, Poodle Variety and I Love Cats. She submitted 20 articles to these magazines and won a Maxwell Medallion in 2000 for her article “Beating Bloat and Analysis of Risk and Prevention.”

She placed as a top three finalist with her article “Magic Moments” from Poodle Magazine for the Angel on a Leash Award. The award is part of the 2010 National Writing Competition sponsored by the National Dog Writers Association of America.

The article focused on her personal experiences with Jester while on their visits.

The pair continues to do visits, and Pflaumer plans to continue writing more articles to submit within the next year.