Marshalltown businesses utilize canines

Dogs bring comfort to those in need

Angela Rodriguez and Ike take time to play with his favorite toy — a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ball. “We work hard and play harder,” Rodriguez said.

Therapy dogs have entered the workforce with owners across the nation. The benefit of these hard-working pets can also be found in Marshalltown.

Their compassion and calming presence provide great comfort to the many clients they meet. The owners of these sympathetic and understanding dogs enjoy sharing them with all who stop to say hello. There are several businesses in town where you can meet some of these kindhearted owners and dogs.

Getting off the elevator at Center Associates in Marshalltown visitors are welcomed by Sabrina a 14-year-old Cocker spaniel and terrier mix or by Millie, a 7-year-old Golden Retriever. They are licensed therapy dogs who are sensitive to people and their comforting needs.

“I call Sabrina my bomb-proof dog, nothing spooks her. She loves everybody,” Abby Shannon, Master of Science temporary licensed mental health counselor said. Shannon has worked at Center Associates for more than a year. She sees clients ages 13 and older with certain insurances.

Before moving to Marshalltown Shannon worked with Cedar Bend Humane Society in Waterloo as an adoption counselor and as a medical technician. She has seen first hand how some dogs are more suited to becoming therapy dogs over others.

Charlie, a Yorkie mix, and Karen Bursley, social worker and bereavement coordinator for Iowa River Hospice. “I call Charlie a canine companion who can go to visit when and wherever he is welcome,” Bursley said.

Sabrina was a rescue and is a veteran therapy dog at several schools and hospitals in central Iowa. She was saved from being euthanized. Sabrina had several tumors and was living in a shelter with few prospects. She was transferred to the shelter where Shannon worked. Sabrina was given a second chance when Shannon noticed her warm and comforting personality.

After working with Sabrina several years Shannon felt she needed to add a younger therapy dog to her practice when she moved to Marshalltown.

Millie joined the team with a smooth transition already well-versed in obedience training.

Shannon said in one instance a client who lost a loved one was comforted in a session with Millie’s presence. The dog reminded the client of her loved one’s love of dogs. In another incident a crying client was sitting on the floor and was comforted by Millie coming up and laying her head on their chest.

“It was so powerful for me to see because that was what she needed right then and there,” Shannon said.

Gabriel or Gabe is the staff “door-greeter” at Mitchell Family Funeral Home but has been to Iowa River Hospice and several nursing homes in the community to provide a kind and comforting presence.

She is hoping to educate the public on knowing the difference between types of support animals.

“Dogs that provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA,” Shannon said.

She went on to emphasize that there is a difference between therapy animals, emotional support animals and service animals.

“These dogs are really well trained. All the concerns we may have had administratively we haven’t seen; because they are so well trained,” Kim Hagen Center Associates clinical director and licensed independent social worker said.

She added they are working dogs and serve a purpose for clients and staff.

Sabrina and Millie love meeting new and old friends at Center Associates in Marshalltown. “They are a valuable asset to our practice,” Kim Hagen clinical director said.

Another business with a therapy dog can be found at Iowa River Hospice. Charlie will greet visitors in a calm and friendly manner and soon be resting comfortably at their feet. His age of 9 years is approximate as he was a rescue dog. He is a Yorkie mix and an end-of-life counselor according to his owner Karen Bursley, social worker and bereavement coordinator but has no certification. She has seen his gift at work with many of her clients.

“It’s remarkable what dogs do; we know dogs can experience love,” Bursley said.

She went on to explain that while Charlie has no formal training his “quiet gentle presence,” visiting folks who are approaching the end of their lives gives them comfort and provides “calm and soothing companionship.” Charlie has been welcomed in many Marshalltown nursing and retirement communities as well as the living units at Iowa Veterans Home.

Mitchell Funeral Home has a celebrity in residence. Staff door greeter Gabriel or “Gabe” has been on television stations locally and internationally.

“He has been seen in Australia,” Mary Drake, business manager said. “Gabe is very much a presence and part of our staff. He’s the first one to the door.”

Gabe started his therapy training at 7 weeks old. He is a non-shedding hypoallergenic Golden-doodle (Golden Retriever and Poodle mix). He is 7 years old.

“He particularly pays attention to moms who have lost little ones. Funeral homes can be very scary for children and adults.  He’s kind of a welcome distraction,” Drake said.

She went on to say clients are soothed and reassured by him. He loves everyone he meets and he gives them a connection and commonality that’s something other than concentrating on death.

Iowa Veterans Home may soon have a therapy dog on staff. Ike short for Eisenhower is the youngest member at 4 and one-half months old. He and owner Angela Rodriguez recreation licensed practical nurse are attending therapy training classes. The large puppy likes to meet visitors when he is on campus at the main entrance with his favorite ball.

“He’s in training to be a therapy dog. That’s our aspirations. You never know. The dog always decides,” Rodriguez said.

Ike is a German-Shepard that was specifically bred to be a therapy dog but only training and time can determine if that will be his vocation. He attends classes once a week but Rodriguez is hoping to start some one-on-one work with the trainer.

“Not that he’s doing bad or anything but this a special thing and I want to make sure it gets done right for him and us,” Rodriguez said.

She hopes to get him out in the community at various businesses and events.

“We’ll probably be in the Octemberfest parade. It’s not just here at the Veterans home but he will be a public servant in town,” she said.

Observation of canines shows that not all dogs have a therapeutic personality. There are many trainings or assessments involved in determining if a dog is suited to being a therapy animal. It is one of the many vocations open to today’s canine and can be an asset to a business or an individual. Attending obedience classes is how it begins. From there specific dog therapy classes will help assess if the dog has the temperament to be a “healer of hearts.”


Service animal: Service animals are allowed to go everywhere their human goes. They need to go through an extensive training process. These animals are thoroughly evaluated and tested.

Emotional support animal: The animals are not allowed in public places because they are not professionally evaluated. They only have rights with prescription approval from a doctor. Those rights include being allowed on airplanes and in housing facilities where owners live. These animals provide a therapeutic benefit through companionship. They are not trained to perform a specific task.

Therapy animal: A therapy animal has no access rights to public spaces without site permission. They are trained to provide calming, supportive companionship for other people, not the handler. The animal will go through a thorough behavioral evaluation process.


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