- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

PRINCETON, Ind. (AP) - It’s been said that dog is man’s best friend.

Every month at River Oaks Health campus, a Springer spaniel named Lily proves the saying is true.

Pet Partners volunteer Debbie Wells visits River Oaks once a month and takes Lily door to door to visit with residents for a few minutes of pet therapy.

Pet Partners is a nonprofit organization of volunteers who train, evaluate and provide animal-assisted therapy.

Wells says the look on a resident’s face when they see the dog is priceless.

“Just to see their expressions_they light up,” she said.

“Especially if they have had a dog at home, it brings joy to them and to me.

Lily, who is 7 (47 in dog years), got her name for always playing, and destroying, the lilies in Wells’ yard.

They make visits to River Oaks, Gibson General Hospital and retirement homes in Mount Carmel, Illinois.

“She is a real sweet dog,” said resident Betty Smith.

Wells said Lily has special training and they have been volunteering for almost a year.

“We actually did our training at Doggie Do Right in Fort Branch. Cindy Kieffer does training and we took classes with the owner before we did the therapy classes.”

For Wells, the idea of volunteering came easily after she retired from Princeton Community High School after teaching for 36 years.

“I had a sorority sister who did pet therapy. She told me about going to the nursing homes and the hospital and how fulfilling it was for her,” she said.

“I decided this was something that I would like to do. Lily and I started classes that first fall after I retired, and last summer was our first summer.”

She says walking through the halls of River Oaks, everybody is very accommodating.

“Some residents don’t really want to touch her, but they are interested in talking, so we sit and visit for a minute. But most of them like to pet her.”

“They are always so thrilled to see her, so appreciative, and thank me for bringing her. Unfortunately, I did have a resident start crying, it was because she missed her dog - but she still thanked me.

“There were about six of us that were in a class, and we came out here. It was part of the training, to see if the dogs were even suitable for therapy.”

Training classes for Lily consisted of basic commands and obedience.

“For example, if there is anything on the floor like medication, they need to be able to tell them to leave it, because if a resident or someone has dropped anything it could be dangerous.”

Wells said it’s also important that the therapy pets know how to be cooperative.

“Some dogs are suited and some are not. She has done really well with the residents. I don’t know that she would do as well with young children, I do know that some dogs do better with children - but this has worked well for us.”

Pet Partner teams interact with a variety of clients, including veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, seniors living with Alzheimer’s, students with literacy challenges, patients in recovery, people with intellectual disabilities and those approaching the end of life.

Not all therapy animals are dogs. They can be cats, horses, rabbits, pigs, birds, llamas and alpacas.

“I know there are other volunteer organizations, but this was an easy decision for me.”

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Source: Princeton Daily Clarion, https://bit.ly/1oQc8nB

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Information from: Princeton Daily Clarion, https://www.tristate-media.com/pdclarion

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