Tippy’s Therapy Dogs Make Impact


Every Thursday afternoon while most teachers head home, English teacher Brian Tippy takes one of his golden retrievers, either Comet or Ajax, to The Connecticut Hospice. Comet and Ajax take turns every week bringing joy and comfort to patients in hospice and their families.

Comet and Ajax are both therapy dogs trained by Tippy himself. When he first got them he took them to training classes starting at puppy kindergarten through advanced obedience classes. Tippy made sure his dogs were well trained because he says likes to take them as many places as possible and wanted to make sure they know how to behave appropriately around people. After completing this training, Tippy deemed the next logical step was to see if they could be therapy dogs.

Many get therapy dogs and service dogs mixed up, but therapy dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs are trained to do specific tasks to help an owner with a disability, whereas therapy dogs do animal assisted therapy. Therapy dogs often visit sick patients, help kids gain confidence by reading to pets, or provide emotional support.

“A therapy dog doesn’t perform specific tasks to help me with a disability, so they’re not entitled to come into Starbucks with me or anything,” Tippy said, distinguishing the difference between therapy and service dogs.

There is no legal certification required to become a therapy dog, so according to Tippy, there are a lot of scams that can send you paperwork certifying dogs that have no merit. However there are two national organizations that can certify therapy dogs, Therapy Dog International and Pet Partners. These both require the human to take about six hours of classes for dog handling and then pass a complicated test with their dog. Comet and Ajax are both Pet Partner certified.

Tippy describes the impact Comet and Ajax make as “remarkable.” He cites instances of people with dementia becoming more alert because therapy dogs make them more comfortable and can bring back memories. They can help stroke victims work on coordination by learning how to brush them. The list goes on of the impact they have.

“Sometimes you see improvements you wouldn’t believe are possible, because for some people, a dog does something for them that medical care can’t,” Tippy said.

In addition to medical care, therapy dogs can provide emotional support. Often times during exams the Westport Public Library provides therapy dogs to help calm students.

Tippy loves the idea of bringing these dogs into Staples as well as during exams. “Unfortunately, the idea has not yet been approved higher up in the district administration, but I’m very optimistic, based on all the research on the benefits, combined with anecdotal evidence of successful therapy dog visits in nearby high schools, that we will be able to have some therapy dog visits some day soon,” Tippy said. “I have the dogs ready to go the second we can make it work!”

While Comet and Ajax aren’t off helping others, they’re just like normal dogs who love hiking, swimming, fetching, snuggling and meeting new people.

“Therapy work doesn’t require that the dogs do any rocket science,” Tippy said. “The only thing that makes a dog a poor candidate for therapy work is if he doesn’t like meeting new people.