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A visiting dog did her best, but she could not raise the 10-year-old’s spirits.

“He looked at Kacey and was just lying there and petting her head a bit while she had her head on the bedside,” Kacey’s owner John Smead recalled.

Then the boy’s mother began reading Kacey’s “bio” card that shows her picture and tells a bit about her, and the visit turned to an amazing connection.

“She said, ‘Well look Michael, Kacey is like you. She is a very picky eater!’”

The youngster suddenly perked up and said, “You are like me?  You don’t feel like eating sometimes either huh?”

The little boy got out of bed, sat on the floor beside Kacey, and shook her paw saying, ‘I am glad to meet you Kacey.’  He gave her a few hugs and in return Kacey leaned over and rubbed her head against him.

“The nurse and his mom had a few tears. She said they can never get him out of the bed,” Smead said. “I guess that is what it’s all about.”

Kacey, once a stray dog, now wins hearts every week as a therapy dog in Southern California. (Kacey is pictured above wearing the pink collar.)

The American Kennel Club rewards the incredible contributions of therapy dog teams with special titles. The new AKC Therapy Dog program recognizes dogs and their owners who have given their time and helped people by volunteering as a therapy dog and owner team.

To qualify, dogs must be registered or listed with AKC; certified by a recognized therapy dog organization; and have completed a certain amount of visits. The titles are:

AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN). Must have completed 10 visits.
AKC Therapy Dog (THD). Must have completed 50 visits.
AKC Therapy Dog Advanced (THDA). Must have completed 100 visits.
AKC Therapy Dog Excellent (THDX). Must have completed 200 visits.
AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD). Must have completed 400 visits.

AKC does not certify therapy dogs; the certification and training is done by qualified therapy dog organizations.

Kacey is certified by the Delta Society – one of the AKC-recognized organizations – and she is enrolled in the AKC Canine Partners program for all dogs, including mixed-breeds and rescues.

A former stray, turned into a shelter after found wandering in a parking lot, Kacey now gives back by brightening the lives of patients at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CA).

“She is quite a dog. I guess she just has an instinct for it,” Smead said. “After she is done shaking hands, she does her beg thing…sits on her back legs and just leans back…no treats or anything.”

Another AKC Canine Partners dog who helps children and others through therapy dog visits is Chloe. But the mixed-breed dog almost did not make it through puppy hood, said her owner Alesia Cork of Alabama.


“I was working at a veterinarian’s office at the time, and she was brought in as a puppy from some people who were supposedly raising pit bulls.  She was very ill – 8 weeks old and weighed 1.5 pounds,” Cork said. “The people wanted to use her as a breeding dog but could not afford to pay her bill.  I paid off the medical bills and rescued her.”

Chloe flourished with Cork’s love and care and soon was at the normal weight for her age. Cork began formal training when Chloe was about 9 months old. The pup was such an outgoing pupil that a friend encouraged Cork to start therapy work with Chloe.

“Chloe loves people, and she is a happy dog,” Cork said. “She enjoys meeting all kinds of people.”

A certified therapy dog by the Delta Society, Chloe works in a reading program through the Tuscaloosa (AL) Public Libraries called Tail Tellers. “Children come to the library on designated days and read to the dogs to practice their reading skills or simply come in and interact with the animals.”

The AKC started the therapy dog titling program after receiving frequent, ongoing requests from owners who participate in therapy work to “acknowledge the great work our dogs are doing.”

Earning an AKC Therapy Dog title builds on the skills taught in the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy and Canine Good Citizen programs, which create a sound and friendly temperament needed by a successful therapy dog. Many therapy dog organizations require the CGC award as a pre-requisite to certification.

It was an AKC dog show that actually gave Smead the idea to start volunteering with Kacey in therapy dog work.

“I was watching the Westminster (Kennel Club) dog show on TV. There was a story about one of the dogs being a therapy dog and what the dog did,” he said. “I looked it up on the internet and read about the requirements to be certified and thought that Kacey had the temperament and the attitude to be a good one…She just loves kids and she loves to please.”

For more information on obtaining an AKC Therapy Dog title and how to apply, access /akctherapydog/

For more information on the AKC Canine Partners program for mixed-breed dogs and other dogs not eligible for full AKC registration, access /dog-owners/canine-partners/

If you own a therapy dog that is a mixed-breed and does not have its AKC number, then AKC is extending a special offer to list with AKC Canine Partners for $19: /pdfs/therapy_dog/canine_partners_enrollment.pdf