Teddy is one of five 2021 AKC Awards for Canine Excellence recipients, winning the Therapy Dog category. This category recognizes certified therapy dogs working in hospitals, schools, disaster sites, war zones, and wherever else the affection of a good dog can provide comfort.
Team Teddy is all about emotional acuity and familial commitment that elicits broad smiles and tender touches everywhere it travels.
George and Pam Brown and their 16-year-old daughter Caleigh Brown, of Attleboro, Massachusetts, along with Teddy, their 8-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, an accredited therapy dog, reading companion, and K9 First Responder have achieved countless but challenging successes in their travels to schools, prisons, and developmental senior facilities for several years.
All of this has earned the trio the American Kennel Club’s prestigious 2021 AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence honor in the Therapy Dog category.
How Teddy Joined the Family
At age 8 and as a member of a 4-H club, Thunder Hill Canine Counters, Caleigh began training the Berner puppy that took her through a pathway to Canine Good Citizen accreditation, certified Therapy Dog, and the first K9 First Responder canine trained by a 4-H member.
Caleigh’s introduction to the dog-show world came via a Dalmatian, however. She and her Mom attended several events to see a friend’s Dal compete in conformation. At one show they met Dorri Poppe and her Berner, Chester. They were immediately drawn to his kind, loving personality and presence.
Their friendship evolved and a neighbor encouraged Caleigh to join a 4-H dog club when she eventually got a puppy. In early 2013, Poppe had a puppy available. When the family visited Poppe, “the hook was set,” Brown smiles. “He lacked the size and characteristics of a future champion, which was fine with us, as we simply wanted a pet, and pursuing titling wasn’t under consideration.”
Teddy joined the family in March 2013 and was entered in an AKC match later that year, before segueing into 4-H training. The headstrong and physically challenging 9-month-old puppy was a load for young Caleigh at the outset. “He was often more interested in people than working with Caleigh on skills,” Brown recalls. There were days when Brown was asked to leave the facility as Teddy would charge out of the room to visit him.
The following fall, the pair entered an AKC trial, where they would be introduced to Adam Conn, of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Nashoba Valley (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island), an aspiring judge, in her first trip into the ring.
Dad remembers that outing like it was yesterday. “Teddy promptly ran from the ring dragging Caleigh with him. Poppe swapped dogs with her and she had a successful showing. Conn was great in making her understand she didn’t fail.”
At a 4-H dog camp two years later, Teddy won the award for the most stubborn dog and Caleigh, the most resilient handler.
Dog Shows and Therapy Training
Slowly, ever so slowly, these two blossomed together while competing in many Massachusetts 4-H dog shows. Two individuals, Cathy Quinn and Carol Donnolly, played key roles, emphasizes Caleigh. “Cathy introduced obedience and showmanship while Carol helped refine those skills.”
Fast forward to 2016 when the 90-pound Teddy and Caleigh along with other Thunder Hill 4-H teams were certified as Therapy Dog teams and reading companions through Dog B.O.N.E.S. of Massachusetts. Her parents both qualified, too, since one was required to join the teen in all future Therapy Dog settings. Next, they successfully tested for temperament with the American Temperament Test Society.
Teddy’s list of impressive credentials also includes the AKC Community Canine Good Citizen certification, an advanced version of the CGC.
Advanced tricks, says Pam Brown, was yet another key bonding activity. “Teddy loves learning new things and will do anything for food. Some of his favorite tricks are turning lights on and off, closing the refrigerator door, and saying his prayers.
Empathy and Intuition in All Situations
Brown, a retired police sergeant and certified in Critical Incident Stress Management for Individuals and Groups, applied for and was accepted into the Connecticut-based K9 First Responders. This calls for him and Teddy to assist victims of disaster, catastrophe, crisis, or violence, which means they are dispatched to schools, prisons, hospitals, law enforcement, fire, and Emergency Medical Services.
“Teddy has demonstrated the ability to pick out the person among many who is in need of psychological first aid,” says Brown. “In the aftermath of a fatal schoolyard shooting, he spotted a 16-year-old girl for his attention. We opened a conversation with her and learned she was standing beside the young man when he was shot.”
During a series of group Critical Incident Stress Management debriefings at a maximum-security prison following a violent attack on officers, Teddy chose to interact with those harboring a high degree of depression or anxiety.
At a local high school, the dog ignored everyone in the room when a young woman entered. She was suffering from a serious non-visible health concern.
During an elementary-school reading companion session, Teddy showered one boy with attention. Turns out, he was suffering from emotional trauma in his family.
Yet another incident: During a post-CISM debriefing at a public safety agency following the suicide of a First Responder, Teddy keyed in on a woman who had been partnered with the deceased and missed the debrief due to a call for service. She needed to talk and Teddy gave her the opportunity to have an open one-on-one dialogue with George.
Last April, Brown and Teddy along with six other K9 First Responder teams were deployed to Washington, D.C., to support the United States Capitol Police in the aftermath of the April 2 killing of a USCP officer and the attack on another. The teams offered incredible emotional support to the families, friends and other officers dealing with a series of traumatic events, which saw two other officers choose suicide as a means of resolving their trauma.
“Some of our most meaningful therapy dog sessions were at an adult day program for developmentally disabled adults,” Brown notes. “We would meet up to 100 program members during some visits. Teddy was loving and attentive while being very respectful of those who were nervous in his presence. This was a very challenging environment and Teddy always met the challenge.”
The Perfect Partnership
Prior to COVID restrictions beginning in March 2020 Caleigh and one of her parents took Teddy to twice-monthly therapy visits at area schools, before the first class. Being in the midst of the sessions, she felt “made it easier for the students to interact with one of their own.”
Caleigh is right at home with Teddy during the student-run Suppress the Stress Club sessions at her high school, Bishop Feehan, in Attleboro. “The idea is, of course, to create a stress-free environment while we learn ways to alleviate anxiety,” she explains. Attendance at their semi-weekly visits ranges from 15-30. Team Teddy recently began paying visits on test days, which has proven highly popular.
In addition to the one-on-one interactions with students and adults through the years, Caleigh’s 4-H and canine involvement have enabled her to develop self-confidence, public speaking skills, leadership, and showmanship. “It has been truly satisfying and helped me to become a better-rounded person. But many thanks go to my parents for their incredible support. It has truly been a team effort.”