Dakota is a pedigree Standard Poodle who has won awards for her work as a therapy dog. She lives in the North Country with her alpha person, Lorena Palm, her sister dog Lulu, a Coton de Tulear, and Lulu’s person, Judy Hunter.
How would you describe your life’s work?
It all started when Lorena and Judy chose me from among a litter of 9 pups. They brought me home to a quiet household, so I helped make it exciting. I’m a pretty strong willed Standard Poodle and of course very smart, so I thought I could tell them what to do. It took 2 long years for me to learn that Lorena is really the “alpha” in our household.
Then, I took training to become a therapy dog to help Lorena find something to do after she retired from Girl Scouts. She likes to do things that make a difference and I like people a lot. Over the past 4 years we have made 150 visits to nursing homes, schools, cancer treatment center, residential mental health facility and even law schools during finals week. My favorite place to visit is the cancer center, where I go all through the facility to make staff smile (I smile at them, too) and comfort patients. Sometimes I jump up on the chair next to them and lay my head on their lap. That makes everyone smile.
Why does it matter?
Life is very stressful for many people and when I can make them smile, I’ve done my job. Lorena puts my special collar and scarf around my neck and tells me we’re “going to work” so I know it is time to be serious, greet new people and pay attention to their feelings. But it is also important to me to help Lorena pay back some of the people who helped her when she was going through cancer treatment
How did you choose to do this work?
When I was 6 months old, I was in training for “conformation,” which is a fancy name for what really happens at a dog show. I did well at the training and my first weekend of competition was successful, but in the last show I let everyone know that it wasn’t my favorite thing to do. I jumped, used my mouth, barked and even put my paws on the judge’s shoulders. After that, I started obedience training and went on to therapy dog training.
What would you say is your most significant achievement in the last 2 years?
Our team of owners and dogs was recognized by the State of Minnesota Department of Human Services with the Commissioner’s Circle of Excellence Award. Our team of 10-14 dogs goes twice a month to a large residential mental health treatment center. I love seeing all my dog friends and I get to meet lots of new people each visit.
What’s next for you?
I will go wherever Lorena takes me and as long as we both can physically do this, I’d like to keep working at being a therapy dog. And if Lorena has time, maybe we can do a little agility training, too. It’s fun going through tunnels and doing tricks.
How do you want to be remembered?
Most people know poodles are smart and fancy, but I’d like to be known for making a difference in people’s lives — just like Lorena does.