Recently, a local news station covered a medical story starring Eli, a six-year-old Golden Retriever, who regularly calms nervous patients and brings a smile to everyone’s face. Linda Marler, R.N, coordinator at Baylor’s Animal Assisted Therapy Program, started preparing Eli to be a therapy dog when he was just a young pup.
“Eli actually started retrieving for patients at 10-weeks old,” explains Linda. “Since he is my dog, he started going to work with me immediately when I got him. He found out people in wheelchairs have balls they like to throw. He has a special affinity for patients with brain injuries. He seems to know that their erratic movements are not threatening. He can go from retrieving with one patient to cuddling with another.”
Baylor began its animal assisted therapy program in 1985, and today, there are 94 dogs, 2 parrots and 2 ponies in the program. The animals visit patients in Baylor facilities spread out from central Dallas to Waxahachie in the south and as far north as Frisco.
Linda became a Baylor employee in 1987, but it wasn’t until 1989 that she had a dog suitable for the program. “Once in the program I got hooked on seeing how much your dog can impact other people. That feeling is immeasurable,” Linda says.
Eli is Linda’s fifth dog in Baylor’s Animal Assisted Therapy Program. At home, he’s modeling therapy dog behavior for the family’s other dog, Tonka, a rescued English bulldog. Tonka passed his therapy dog exam last August.
What type of personality does Linda look for in a therapy dog?
“Animals that are calm, like people, gets along well with other dogs, and follows commands,” she explains. “It also helps when they know tricks because some people do not necessarily like to pet the dog, but like to be entertained by the dog.”