Tommy was born in Goa, adopted by Monique Nerman and taken to the US, and is currently with her in Italy.
While in the US Monique not only signed him up in two obedience classes, she also enrolled him as a Therapy Dog.
I've been nagging her to write about it for this blog (thanks Monique!)
Here's her account of how Tommy entered this wonderful programme:
Tommy is now the proud owner of the "I am a Therapy Dog" badge and ID card.
What is a Therapy Dog?
"The primary objective of the TDI dog and handler is to provide comfort and companionship by sharing the dog with the patients in hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions and wherever else the Therapy Dog is needed. This is done in a way that increases emotional well-being, promotes healing, and improves the quality of life for the people being visited and the staff that cares for these people.
"The volunteers in the program and the dogs who visit with those in care facilities do make a difference in the quality of life. Real therapy is provided between animals and people." - From TDI - Therapy Dogs International - presentation on Therapy Dogs.
TDI, the first Therapy Dog organization, founded in 1976 in New Jersey, USA, is a NGO and through them you can test your dog.
There are no schools to train the dog - it's very much a "you either have it or you don't."
Therapy Dogs are expected to give emotional support and compassion not only to their owners/ handlers but to whoever is in front of them. They need to have an outstanding character and personality.
To be able to test Tommy we had to take the Canine Good Citizen test and then on a very hot August day we had the Therapy Dog test.
Ever since I decided to adopt Tommy, I had had a feeling he would be a perfect Therapy Dog. Now was the time to see if he really was ready to do it.
The evaluator had us walk past food without touching it, not react to wheel chairs or objects being thrown on the floor, people hugging him forcefully, sitting on a chair next to a handicapped person and waiting patiently while being touched.
He passed all these tests and the evaluator joked that "of course he has to be used to commotion - he is from India!" So Tommy passed the test and then we went to the vet to get the veterinary certificate, and then to take a passport photo for his ID card.
Two weeks later I had found an assisted living center so off we went, with the bandana, the tag and the ID card, for the moment of truth. Would Tommy be able to handle the hospital environment? Would he be loving to complete strangers who were ill? And what was I supposed to do?
We met David and Miles, a very big field Labrador, who were going to be our buddies: they belong to Delta, another Therapy Dog NGO.
Our task was going to be to visit 25 rooms with two patients in each room. Help!
Miles and David helped us get started - four minutes in each room.
Tommy wagged his tail cautiously and looked at me with concern - but after a couple of rooms he got the hang of it and wagged with more confidence and bravely went up to all the patients on the "go say Hi" command.
He stood patiently by the wheelchairs and let himself be touched, didn't freak out by the oxygen machines or the amputated legs.
He really liked it when he had to lie on some of the patients' beds. Comfortably lay down, stretched and closed his eyes for a snooze!
After a few visits we became popular with the patients and we could hear from the halls "Are Tommy and the big dog here?"
The hardest thing is to not show how emotional this type of volunteering is. Seeing the smiles and the joy on the patients' faces and how Tommy understands the importance of what he does brings tears to my eyes.
I am so proud of my little INDog who just a few months earlier was living on the streets of India chasing cars and cows!
After leaving America we went to Italy, and started doing Therapy Dog visits in a day care center for adults with intellectual and relational disabilities (e.g. Autism and Down's Syndrome).
It's an amazing facility with so much love and hope. Tommy walks in to the center like a pro and understands at once that this is important stuff!
The patients know Tommy well now and try to teach him Italian.
One young woman who was scared of dogs and has speech and movement problems, was introduced to Tommy - and after one visit now spends time with him petting him and brushing him.
Tommy stands patiently next to her and doesn't move when she is next to him.
The other week Tommy was lying in the middle of a circle of ten people, stomach up, eyes closed and paws in the air, being petted and pampered by everyone.
This is an amazing way to help people. We volunteer one hour per week.
It shows that dogs have outstanding personalities and that they have compassion and so much love to share.
Tommy's job is to help people feel better and he really understands that he is part of something bigger.
I feel honoured to have him in my life.
Story and photos: Monique G Nerman
USA & Italy
Therapy Dogs International (TDI) - www.tdi-dog.org
Please do not use images/content from this site without permission and acknowledgment