Canine connection

Janet Forrester

By Miranda Jesch

As I walk into Janet Forrester’s house, her two dogs greet me first and foremost. Licorice is a black standard poodle, and Matilda is a white westie terrier. When I sit down, Matilda jostles her way onto my lap and makes it her home for the rest of the interview, surreptitiously rolling over onto her side from time to time in an attempt to receive a belly rub. Forrester is president of Paws for Love Pet Therapy. She takes Licorice out at least once a week, and occasionally Matilda, to offer companionship to the elderly, children and the physically and mentally ill. There is also the Paws to Read program through which children at schools and libraries can read to dogs. To volunteer you and your pet, call 826-5199.

Who is involved in Paws for Love?

We have about 140 volunteer members and about 125 dogs. We have husband and wife teams and families that work with one dog. Something I’m very proud of is that about a third of our dogs are rescues. Licorice is a rescue. It’s unbelievable how great these dogs are. Here they are abandoned, and then they turn around and give so much to the people in their community.

Why don’t you take Matilda out as often as Licorice? She’s so charming.

Matilda is so short that I have to pick her up, which gets tiresome. She weighs 19 pounds. She’s like a rock … and she’s feisty. She’s passed all the tests, but her one weakness is that she’s a terrier, and if another dog growls at her, she thinks that she has to return the favor.

What is the best dog for therapy?

There is no best breed. We have more mixed breeds than anything else. Next, I think there are more golden retrievers and labs, but that doesn’t mean those dogs are better, there are just more of them. It’s so individual, but all the dogs have to meet the criteria.

What are the criteria?

They go through a good citizenship test and a therapy dog test. They are primarily temperament tests. We put them through different exercises or [stressful situations] and observe them. If a dog is aggressive, then they’re out automatically. One thing that makes a good therapy dog is if they like people.

Do the dogs know what they’re doing?

I don’t know exactly what the dogs know, but when I get out Licorice’s coat, it’s just bedlam. So she knows she is going some place and is going to have a good time.

Do people connect with dogs better than other people?

Oh, yes. It’s like you’re not even there when the dog’s there.

What are some of the dogs’ favorite books?

I don’t know about favorite books, but when kids are reading to the dogs, they know the dog can’t read and is not going to correct them, so they’re pretty relaxed about it. It’s often the first time that a child has had anybody listen to them read, and it just opens doors.