There were no dog-related mysteries at last Wednesday evening’s One Book, One Philadelphia event. In fact, the message was quite clear: working and service dogs from across the city are pretty amazing creatures. Whether they’re easing a sick patient’s stress, aiding children with physical or mental disabilities, or detecting cancer with their incredible sense of smell, service dogs have an innate ability to improve the lives of many different humans.
The first dog to take the stage was Linus, a therapy dog lead by social worker Christina Bach. Christina explained how Linus, with his unflappable demeanor and warm heart, visits cancer wards and hospice houses. He connects with patients who bond with the friendly beagle mix without having to use words or directly address their illness. When Linus isn’t helping the sick, he can be found in our neighborhood libraries, lending a floppy ear to children who may be too shy to read in front of adults or peers to help them practice reading skills.
Next up was a spritely golden retriever puppy named Maggie with her trainer Michaela Greif from the non-profit Paws and Affection. Michaela trains dogs like Maggie to help children with mental or physical disabilities. The service pups from Paws and Affection assist adolescents with daily tasks, but also build confidence and reduce stress, becoming a vital part of the children’s development. With such an important job, however, comes months and months of training for these puppies. Michaela demonstrated some of the most effective ways to train not only service dogs like Maggie, but our pets at home, too. Creating emotional associations between treats and tasks, along with positive reinforcement, are important ways to train your dog.
At this point in the night, it was obvious the stunning connection between dogs and humans—how they help us heal, how they ease our suffering, and how they often provide a bridge between humans and our social environment. Remarkably, dogs’ talents go beyond just therapeutic duties, and this was on full display with the work of Penn Vet Working Dog Center. From detecting ovarian cancer by scent to uncovering dangerous bombs, Penn working dogs demonstrate some of the most impressive feats. Dogs like Ffoster (yes, with two Fs!) the golden lab train for months in both detection skills and physical fitness. They learn to identify certain scents like cancer and harmful substances; to react appropriately to various intense situations, either by sitting passively in front of a reactive object like an explosive or by barking aggressively if they find a trapped human; and to keep up their physical fitness through a range of daily obstacle course-like activities.
During the program, PAWS was on hand with some adorable adoptable dogs so audience members could embrace the wonder of these amazing animals in their own homes.
And while there was no curious incident to report at the end of the night, this One Book, One Philadelphia event certainly confirmed the deep connection and pure love that exists between us and our beloved dogs.