The Rutherford Report—Comfort Pets Spreads Cheer with Dogs

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“Buy a pup and your money will buy love unflinching.”

—Rudyard Kipling
Comfort Pets Spreads Cheer with Dogs

When Linda Smith retired from her career as an air traffic controller and moved to the mountain community of Crestline in 2004, she wanted to use her newfound free time to do some good.  

“And I wanted it to have something to do with my dogs.”  

She’d been watching a TV show about therapy dogs being used to help inmates in prison, so she started researching how to train and certify her dogs—three at the time— to become therapy dogs as well.  

Eventually, she got one of her dogs certified and began to bring her to Mountains Community Hospital in Lake Arrowhead to meet with elderly patients in the hospital’s extended care wing.

“She made people happy,” Smith said. “I thought this is so wonderful, the power this dog has to make people happy. I have to share this with others.”

She placed an ad in the Mountain News seeking others interested in volunteering their time and dogs to comfort others, and she immediately got five replies.  

Thus Rim of the World Comfort Pets was born in 2005.  

At first, the nonprofit group had to educate people about the benefits of using dogs in clinical settings.  

“People had no idea of the efficacy of therapy dogs when it comes to treating patients’ stress and anguish,” Smith said.    

Today, the nonprofit has more than 60 teams of trained therapy dogs and handlers with established visiting programs throughout the County including at the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Veterans Administration Hospital in Loma Linda and Kaiser Permanente Hospitals in Fontana and Ontario. They also visit several retirement homes, rehabilitation health care facilities, colleges, libraries, and elementary schools.  

“We never have to solicit or market ourselves because of our reputation and word of mouth,” Smith said.  

Valley of Enchantment Elementary School teachers praised the group’s work to encourage students to read. The Rim Unified School District has hosted Comfort Pets' reading enhancement program since 2007, and the effort has produced many memories and referrals by students who participated.

“The dogs snuggled up with students and the children read stories to their assigned pet and they felt no ‘pressure to perform,’ so their reading skills improved with every visit!” the teachers wrote. “It was, and is, a wondrous experience to behold.”

And a retirement community in Redlands had even more praise for the nonprofit.

“What makes the program so unique is that residents who may be in need of some form of physical therapy are actually getting it as they ‘play’ with the dogs, whether it’s going for a walk, throwing a toy or offering the animal a snack.”

Smith welcomes and is always looking for other dog owners who would like to pay it back and pay it forward in volunteer service by joining the group and training their pets to work as therapy dogs, but she lets them know the process isn’t easy.

“They have to make a commitment to do this with their dog,” she said. “They participate in training and socializing these new therapy dog candidate teams with exposure and practice with the equipment and items familiar to the environments they will be visiting.”

Dog team training and certification generally ranges between six weeks to six months, depending on handlers’ relationship with their dogs. Handlers and their canine companions are a team, and their bond together is paramount to their work. The moment they make their first visit with a patient in need, volunteers realize all the hard work was worth it, Smith said.

Handlers should have a firm desire to take their dog by the paw and leap into an adventure of helping those who need it most, Smith said. They experience aging residents in retirement and patients of all ages recovering from serious injuries, illness, and traumas.  

“When you see that person’s face light up, you are in heaven,” Smith said. “You did this with your dog. That’s the addiction we have. We want more of that happiness.”  

While most of the group’s volunteers are dog owners, Smith said she doesn’t turn anyone away who has the heart to help.

“The heart of a volunteer knows no bounds,” she said.  

Learn more about Rim of the World Comfort Pets at
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