Sally and Tucker tend to draw a crowd when they come to GMC, which this semester is each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. in Withey Hall, just outside the dining hall entrance. Sally is Sally Achey, a retired statistics analyst from Middletown Springs, and Tucker, or “Tuck” for short, is her 10-year-old Australian Shepard.
“Tuck is naturally a very active dog. We’ve done a lot of agility work, we’ve done a lot of herding, which is a natural instinct,” Sally explains. (During our interview, she takes care to spell out the word F-R-I-S-B-E-E—she hasn’t brought one with her and Tuck gets excited when he hears the word).
But Tuck is not an ordinary dog—he’s been trained by Sally as a Pet Partners dog. Pet Partners is the largest national nonprofit organization evaluating multiple species for field work. Among other skills, Tucker has learned to greet strangers; work in crowded, often noisy environments; and to accept petting. Tuck and Sally are a team—when Tuck is “working” Sally is there too, not so much to manage the dog’s behavior, but because the relationship between pet and owner is an important dynamic when interacting with others.
The pair began training when a West Rutland librarian told Sally about a “read to a dog” therapy program. The dogs serve as relaxed and non-judgmental listeners to children who have difficulty reading out loud.
Tucker has another job as a live demonstration subject for animal CPR classes that Sally teaches. “With CPR you can use a ‘dummy’ dog, but they don’t have pulses and they don’t move when you bandage a leg. A live subject is really preferable.”
While doing some training with Tucker for the Pet Partners program evaluation, Sally met prof. Sam Edwards, director of the College’s new animal studies program. “Sam and I got to talking about the potential for having us work with students at GMC, and I began working with the Wellness Center to schedule visits.”
Since then, Tucker and Sally have made lots of friends.
“There is more and more research being done on the effects animals have on people in high-stress situations,” Sally says. “You’ll see therapy animals in dental offices or medical waiting rooms. People tend to experience lower blood pressure and less stress when they are interacting with animals. And the animal benefits from the socialization as well.”
Look out for Sally and Tuck Tuesdays in Withey. Just don’t shout out the word “frisbee!”