With their innocent, playful and affectionate personalities, animals can have a very soothing effect on a person’s life. They are even more therapeutic to those who need it the most, like disabled and/or homeless people, especially children.
There is a therapy dog named Molly who was trained in both English and Spanish. The 3-and-a-half-year-old Chocolate Labrador uses her bilingual abilities to comfort kids in New York City homeless shelters. She also helps bring some happiness to special needs adults in day programs. In fact, one man, who usually only communicates through a device, is able to vocalize Molly’s name and the command “come.” He even takes Molly for walks while in his wheelchair.
Molly was adopted by June Bleich, a homeless shelter representative, from Willcare Labrador Retrievers in New Hampshire when she was just a 3-month-old pup. She came from a litter of seven, and her father, Theodore, has won multiple show awards.
Molly’s obedience training started right away, when she first met her handler, Guillermo “Memo” Roa of GR Pet Services. The pair received their Therapy Dog Team Certification from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs when Molly was a little more than a year old.
“Their loving bond was immediate and her ability to grasp newly introduced commands was equally quick,” said Bleich. “Her puppy temperament was easygoing and unusually calm, which was quite atypical for a Chocolate Lab puppy. Memo and I agreed: Molly had that special edge that would enable her to not only be a fabulous pet but also an unusually gifted therapy dog.”
Memo had escaped Mafia violence in Colombia before he came to the U.S., where he set up a dog training business. “I grew up in Colombia surrounded by animals and nature, which led me to develop a love for dogs,” he said. “I got along with them so well that I started to become known for it. People constantly asked me for tips on how to teach or care for their pets.”
“In 2013, I earned my certification at the Animal Behavior College,” Memo continued. “My experience with dogs taught me that training should be fun for both the dog and the owner. In 2017, I earned the Therapy Dog Evaluator Certification from the American Kennel Club.”
Memo started training Molly in English, but since his first language is Spanish, he taught her the commands in that language as well.
“Unbeknownst to me, while Molly was deeply involved in her therapy dog training, Memo was instructing her in both his native Spanish and English,” said Bleich. “Her bilingual ability set the stage for determining what not-for-profit organizations would best complement her talents.”
Living in Nassau County, New York, Molly volunteers at such organizations as Covenant House, which provides housing and supportive services to youth facing homelessness. She and Memo are currently seeking corporate sponsors to help fund their visits to homeless shelters and more.
For now, Molly and Memo are going to continue fulfilling their mission to “bring forth through their partnership love, hope, light and joy to those most in need,” as per their official website.
“Studies shows that petting and playing with pets reduces stress-related hormones, and these benefits can occur just five minutes after interacting,” said Memo. “A therapy dog must be friendly, calm, confident, gentle and enjoy human contact, and Molly has all of these qualities.”