We had a chat with the amazing Cate Archer. Meet Cate and her adorable pug Doug and find out more about the life of a therapy dog and his human.
Cate Archer shares life with her husband, two dogs and a cat. Children have long since flown the nest! Life is split between London and Northumberland, creating a beautiful balance of city vibrancy and wild coastal walks. Formerly a teacher of those with learning differences, Cate now works voluntarily with Pets As Therapy and as a mentor with Family Action.
What is it like working with Doug, what advice would you give to others who are thinking of embarking on the journey of becoming a therapy dog handler?
Working with a therapy dog is wonderfully rewarding. We’ve met, and forged friendships, with such interesting people with whom our paths would never have otherwise crossed.
Having a dog that genuinely enjoys and welcomes the attention, and would never react negatively to any sounds, actions or behaviours coming his way, made us feel that Doug would make a good therapy dog.
Doug is a wonderfully snuggly little pooch - but, through the variety of dogs that become therapy dogs, we can see that it doesn’t matter how big or small we are, where we come from, or what colour we are, our love always shines from within. Dogs show no judgment. Dogs hold no stigma. We’d like people to think more like our dogs!
Anyone with a predictable soppy dog could do what we do. The time we give to others is a gift. If a prospective volunteer is able to share just one hour a month – it is still time shared that the recipient of their care would not otherwise have enjoyed.
Who are the best governing bodies that volunteers should speak with?
Doug and I volunteer through the UK charity Pets As Therapy. They offer comprehensive guidance through their website (www.petsastherapy.org) and, after structured behavioural assessments of the dog, volunteers are allocated a local area coordinator to support them after registration.
We’ve been with this charity for nine years now and feel that they are a very good governing body to guide us through the values of companion animal therapy.
Once someone is already a handler, what advice would you give them on personal self-care after an emotive experience?
We share our care with those we see as in greater need than ourselves. But, one can never pour from an empty pot!
Working with a therapy dog is lovely, and most of the visits we share are incredibly heartwarming.
But, occasionally, we find that we arrive to see someone who has died or is towards the end of their life, and then there are times when someone shares something with us that gives us a cause for concern.
We never know when these times will hit us, so we always give ourselves a margin for recovery, after each visit, before heading back to our family. It would be unfair, and indiscreet, to take our worries home.
Doug and I then take time out to go for a beautiful walk or take tea and cake somewhere lovely. I fear that if we hadn’t regularly done this that we may have unknowingly burnt out a long time ago and deprived many people of the love that we still share.
What advice would you give Puppy Parents in general on the welfare of their dogs in regards to too much interaction?
We are our dog’s only voice and personal advocate. I chose to share my time with Pets As Therapy – Doug didn’t! We work with children with substantial learning differences, and adults with significant and life-limiting mental health challenges, so I have to be acutely aware of the environment we share. I must foresee any difficulties before they arise. Pets As Therapy dogs don’t work for more than two hours at a time - being emotionally engaged can be incredibly tiring. Our dogs are not puppets. They are living sentient beings.
Tell us about your book and the benefits of the interactions that Doug has with the children he visits in schools?
“Doug the Pug – A Working Dog’s Tale”, is a work of creative non-fiction. It’s for children and those who enjoy being with them. All royalties go to Pets As Therapy. Our book encourages children to believe that we all have something wonderful to offer and helps children embrace the differences we all hold. We hear lots about tolerance these days but feel that actually celebrating these differences is what real true inclusivity is all about.
Doug and I have worked for many years on the Pets As Therapy “Read2Dogs” scheme. When a child reads to Doug, he never interrupts, or corrects, helping the child to believe they have a voice worth hearing. As their reading ability grows, so does their confidence. In this wonderfully safe non-threatening learning environment, the child becomes more willing to contribute right across the curriculum. They then become more confident and socially able in the playground. Helping children in this way will enable them to grow towards feeling worthy adults and significant members of society.
Doug The Pug Therapy Dog