In a square room in the middle of the Erie Humane Society, Michelle Mioduszewski, owner of Niagara Therapy, calmly speaks to a year-and-a-half old yellow lab mix named Hope, who is sitting upright.
“Go to your spot,” Mioduszewski says in a higher pitch than her normal voice, a tone many loving pet owners use.
A purple poly spot marker sits on the tile floor. Hope rises from her seated position to politely sit on the marker.
“Good girl,” Mioduszewski says, proudly, before handing Hope a well-deserved treat.
Since she was only a few months old, Hope has been training to be a service dog as part of a partnership between Niagara Therapy and the Erie Humane Society (EHS). Mioduszewski’s idea was for Hope to becomes a fully certified facility dog that offers animal assistance therapy (AAT).
“She is actually part of the therapy sessions,” Mioduszewski said. “She is integral to the intervention that we provide. So, she actually has to have even more advanced skills and advanced abilities.”
Hope was born at the Erie Humane Society in June of 2019. EHS executive director Nicole Leone said she chose Hope to work with Niagara Therapy because she was well-mannered, well-behaved and liked to interact with people. She started officially training in October of 2019.
“[Michelle] approached us with this idea, and I said, ‘This is a wonderful idea,'” Leone said. “This is another opportunity to showcase the rehabilitation that the Erie Humane Society does with shelter pets and how they can offer wonderful support, wonderful assistance to people in need.”
The partnership meant both Niagara Therapy and the EHS would split the costs to house, feed and train Hope. She is currently preparing for the next two months to take the Canine Good Citizen test and the therapy dog test, and she will have to work for higher accuracy in target areas to officially become a certified facility dog, which is a lot more time-consuming than training a therapy dog.
Afterward, Mioduszewski said Hope will have ongoing training for the rest of her life, but her patients at Niagara Therapy have already taken a shine to her since she started working there last July.
“In those one-on-one sessions, when the patient and the therapist are engaged,” she said, “adding a facility dog and adding a canine into that mix adds some magic that no therapist has.”
Leone said EHS is more than willing to do this again in the future, and multiple companies have already expressed interest in turning shelter dogs like hope into service dogs.
“The training is extensive, and with that comes a lot of commitment and dedication,” she said. “If [a company] is willing to do that, that’s something the Humane Society is happy to work with people on.”