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Lifelong educator and therapy dogs help children with reading, bring cheer to the elderly

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Posted: January 29, 2012 at midnight

Joyce Pruett and Jake enjoy some play time at their Springdale home.

Joyce Pruett officially retired in 2001 after 30- plus years of teaching music and English, but she didn’t slow down a bit.

With newfound time on her hands and a great passion for animals — especially dogs — Pruett began making weekly visits to the Springdale Animal Shelter, bring- ing treats and toys.

A decade later, she now has three certified therapy dogs and a puppy in training. Pruett takes the dogs to public schools to help children with their reading skills, as well as to nursing homes to brighten residents’ days.

“My English backgrounds a good fit for the reading program,” she said.“The children get inspired by the dog reading practice, and I am able to help.”

THREE’S NO CROWD

Pruett’s journey into the world of therapy dogs began seven years ago, during one of her weekly visits to the Springdale shelter. She spot- ted a mother dog and her 7-week- old puppy covered with ticks. The mother’s eye had been put out.

Pruett couldn’t stop thinking about the pair, and two days later she took both of them home to try to make them adoptable. Her efforts to find them a home were futile, so she kept them. Although the mother dog showed obvious signs of mistreatment, both dogs now are happy and healthy.

“I surely didn’t mean to come home with two that day, but I’m glad I did,” she said. “They didn’t look very adoptable and were scheduled to be euthanized that day.”

A year later, Pruett was at the shelter once again and was attracted to a large black-and-white dog.

Pruett knew that with such a large dog in the house, proper training would be important.

“I knew it wouldn’t be wise for a ‘little old lady’ to have a large dog that wasn’t disciplined,” she said.

She took the big dog, Jake, to an obedience class conducted by an officer from the K-9 unit of the Springdale police. Owner and dog progressed from basic to ad- vanced obedience classes.

Meanwhile, Pruett took what she and Jake learned from the classes and taught her other dogs, Annie Mae and Mollie. In addition to general obedience, all the dogs do a few tricks and “play” the piano.

“Having the dogs play the pi- ago was something I wanted to teach them since I teach piano,” she said. “When I give a lesson, the dogs must not be present be- cause they want to play a duet on the other piano.”

ALL CERTIFIED

After hearing about therapy dogs on television and the Inter- net, Pruett did some research into getting her dogs certified by Therapy Dogs International. She found a certified tester who was coming to Alma, so she took Jake to get certified.

Therapy dogs have to have an annual health record signed by a veterinarian and pass a temperament test. Behavior around wheelchairs and other service equipment is evaluated.

Jake passed with flying colors, then Annie Mae and Mollie were certified a few months later in Russellville.

Pruett believes dogs that are brought into public situations for therapy purposes should be certified for many reasons, including insurance.

“TDI-certified dogs have insurance coverage from TDI and have undergone tests ensuring that they are safe to be around any person in any situation,” she said.

SPREADING THE LOVE

Another way Pruett helps animals is through For Pets’ Sake, a nonprofit organization that helps pets and pet owners. For Pets’ Sake helps find permanent homes for homeless and stray pets through fostering. It also helps elderly and special-needs pet own- era with pet expenses through the Best Friends Program, pro- vides free pet-matching services for veterans through the Pets for Vets Program, helps raise pub- lic awareness of animal welfare through educational programs in area schools, and networks with other animal-welfare organizations.

Pruett and other volunteers work with local shelters to post pictures of adoptable dogs and cats online at petfinder.com.

More information is available online at for-pets-sake.org or by calling (479) 313-3785.

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