Teddy is one of five AKC Awards 2021 for Canine Excellence recipients and wins the Therapy Dog category. This category recognizes certified therapy dogs who work in hospitals, schools, disaster areas, war zones and wherever the affection of a good dog can provide comfort.
Team Teddy is all about emotional sharpness and family commitment, which evokes a big smile and tender touch everywhere.
George and Pam Brown and their 16-year-old daughter Caleigh Brown of Attleboro, Massachusetts, along with Teddy, their 8-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, an accredited therapy dog, reading companion, and K9 first responder, have had myriad of challenging successes on their trips to schools, Prisons and development facilities for the elderly for several years.
All of this has earned the trio the American Kennel Club’s prestigious 2021 AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence in the Therapy Dog category.
How Teddy got into the family
At the age of 8 and as a member of a 4-H club, Thunder Hill Canine Counters, Caleigh began training the Bernese puppy which took her through the path to Canine Good Citizen accreditation, certified therapy dog and the first K9 First Responder dog led by. a 4-H member was trained.
However, Caleigh’s introduction to the world of dog shows came through a Dalmatian. She and her mother attended several events to see a friend’s Dal compete on exterior. At a show they met Dorri Poppe and her Bernese Chester. They were immediately drawn to his kind, loving personality and presence.
Their friendship developed, and a neighbor encouraged Caleigh to join a 4-H dog club when she eventually had a puppy. At the beginning of 2013 Poppe had a puppy available. When the family visited Poppe, “the hook was ticked,” smiles Brown. “He lacked the size and traits of a future champion, which was fine with us as we just wanted a pet and they weren’t considering winning titles.”
Teddy joined the family in March 2013 and competed in an AKC match later that year before moving on to 4-H training. The headstrong and physically challenging 9 month old puppy was a burden on young Caleigh from the start. “He was often more interested in people than working on skills with Caleigh,” recalls Brown. There were days when Brown was asked to leave the facility as Teddy stormed out of the room to visit him.
The following fall, the couple entered an AKC trial introducing Adam Conn of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Nashoba Valley (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island), an aspiring judge, to their first Trip in the ring.
Papa remembers this trip as if it were yesterday. “Teddy ran out of the ring immediately, pulling Caleigh with him. Poppe traded dogs with her and she had a successful show. Conn was great at making it clear that she didn’t fail. “
At a 4-H dog camp two years later, Teddy won the award for the most stubborn dog and Caleigh for the most resilient dog handler.
Dog shows and therapy training
Slowly, very slowly, these two bloomed together while attending many Massachusetts 4-H dog shows. Two people, Cathy Quinn and Carol Donnolly, played key roles, Caleigh points out. “Cathy introduced obedience and acting while Carol helped hone those skills.”
Fast forward to 2016 when the 90-pound Teddy and Caleigh, along with other Thunder Hill 4-H teams, were certified as therapy dog teams and reading companions by Dog BONES of Massachusetts. Her parents also both qualified, as one of the teenagers had to take part in all future therapy dog settings. Next, they successfully tested their temperament with the American Temperament Test Society.
Teddy’s impressive list of references also includes the AKC Community Canine Good Citizen certification, an expanded version of the CGC.
Advanced tricks, says Pam Brown, were another important bonding activity. “Teddy loves to learn new things and does everything to eat. Some of his favorite tricks are turning the lights on and off, closing the refrigerator door, and praying.
Empathy and intuition in all situations
Brown, a retired police sergeant and certified in Critical Incident Stress Management for individuals and groups, applied and was inducted into Connecticut’s K9 First Responder. This requires him and Teddy to help victims of any disaster, catastrophe, crisis, or act of violence, which means they will be sent to schools, prisons, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and emergency medical services.
“Teddy has shown that among many people in need of psychological first aid, he can locate the same person,” says Brown. “After a fatal shootout in the schoolyard, he spotted a 16-year-old girl to get his attention. We opened a conversation with her and learned that she was standing next to the young man when he was shot. “
During a series of debriefing sessions on critical incident stress management in a maximum security prison following a violent attack on officers, Teddy chose to interact with those with high levels of depression or anxiety.
At a local high school, the dog ignored everyone in the room when a young woman entered. She suffered from a serious, invisible health disorder.
During a reading companion in elementary school, Teddy showered a boy with attention. It turned out that he was suffering from an emotional trauma in his family.
Another incident: During a post-CISM debriefing with a public security agency following a first aider’s suicide, Teddy typed in a woman who had worked with the deceased and missed the debrief due to a service call. She needed to talk, and Teddy gave her the opportunity to have an open one-on-one conversation with George.
Last April, Brown and Teddy, along with six other K9 first aid teams, were dispatched to Washington, DC, to assist the United States Capitol Police following the April 2 assassination of a USCP officer and the attack on another. The teams offered incredible emotional support to families, friends, and other officers dealing with a series of traumatic events, with two other officers choosing suicide to resolve their trauma.
“Some of our most significant dog therapy sessions have been adult day-to-day programs for developmentally disabled adults,” notes Brown. “On some visits we met up to 100 program members. Teddy was loving and attentive while being very respectful of those who were nervous around him. That was a very challenging environment and Teddy has always risen to this challenge. “
The perfect partnership
Prior to the March 2020 COVID restrictions, Caleigh and one of her parents took Teddy twice a month for therapy visits to local schools before first grade. In the middle of the sessions, she felt that “it was made easier for students to interact with one of their own”.
Caleigh is at home with Teddy during student-organized sessions at the Suppress the Stress Club at her high school, Bishop Feehan in Attleboro. “The idea, of course, is to create a stress-free environment while we learn to reduce anxiety,” she explains. Attendance on their biweekly visits ranges from 15-30. The team recently started visiting Teddy on test days, which has proven to be very popular.
In addition to having face-to-face interactions with students and adults over the years, Caleigh’s 4-H and dog engagements have enabled her to develop self-confidence, public speaking skills, leadership, and showmanship. “It’s been really satisfying and has helped me become a more versatile person. But many thanks to my parents for their incredible support. It was really a team effort. “