Pet Therapy: Bradi Bring Happiness Wherever She Goes

Saying that Sherri and Eric Johnson love Dalmatians is an understatement. They love Dalmatians so much that they have so far rescued 24 of them for their family; with 6 Dalmatians currently living in the household: Bradi, Colbi, Chimi, Maeli, Disco, and Pollo.

“We rescue the Dalmatians that no one wants – the nippers, biters, behavior problems, and those with medical needs,” said Sherri. “We spend a lot of time working with them so that they become a positive addition in their new family.  It’s truly amazing the change they make when we understand what drives their bad behaviors and then help them transform and relate positively in the pack.  Also, many times we have dealt with temporary and life-long medical issues and I am truly grateful that Animal Hospital of North Asheville has embraced an 'open door' approach for educating owners.  Even though I have taken pet first aid classes, AHNA always welcomes the chance to teach me important, useful medical information/techniques so that my pets have the best care possible."

Sherri adopted Bradi from the Haywood County shelter when Bradi was 3 months old. “I don’t know her background.  She was tied to the door at the shelter when the staff arrived for work. She cost me $10, but she is absolutely priceless.”

Sherri noticed right away that Bradi was a rare dog. “She is far more interested in humans than dogs. She wants to be around people all the time. She is incredibly gentle and sweet. I knew she would make the perfect therapy dog.”

Bradi became a therapy dog in April of 2009. “She already had the temperament for it, so I spent only 3 weeks training her obedience and in the 4th week she passed her pet therapy test,” said Sherri. “She’s also trained in sign language so if we are in a situation where she can’t hear me, she can take commands through signing.”

Bradi was originally registered with the Delta Society, and is now with Therapy Dogs, Inc. She is also the only Dalmatian that is a part of Mission Hospital’s pet therapy program ‘Paws On A Mission.’ Bradi visits both the neurosciences and spine unit at Mission, the V.A. Hospital, children’s camps, assisted living facilities, the first grade reading program at Haw Creek, miscellaneous functions and UNCA.

“Most people don’t remember how scary it is to be a freshman in college. For many freshmen this is the first time that they are separated from their parents, friends, and pets. Paws On A Mission visits the college when they first arrive and we are also there for the first exams. The students are comforted by the presence of the dogs.”

Pet Therapy is part of the Integrative Healthcare Department at Mission Hospital. Mission uses many complimentary therapies to promote healing such as aromatherapy, relaxation techniques, and pet therapy because they realize that there are many ways to heal. The minute Bradi and Sherri arrive at Mission Hospital, or other venues, they are ambassadors for Mission’s pet therapy. They not only visit patients, but also employees, people waiting in the lobby, and anyone else they see. “We are mostly there for the patients, but we also are there for the people whose loved one is in the hospital. It can be a very stressful, frightening time for them as well.”

Bradi and Sherri are assigned to a certain section of the hospital where they meet up with a nurse or another ‘leashless volunteer.’ “Many of the Paws on A Mission programs require a leashless volunteer to accompany the dog therapy team, so it’s always me, Bradi, and one other person. We go room to room to visit with patients who want to see Bradi.”

“Bradi loves her time at the hospital,” said Sherri. “She has no idea that she is there for the good of the patients – she just knows that she goes to the hospital and gets lots of love. With the patient’s permission, she gets into bed with them. We spread a sheet on the bed and she hops up for a snuggle. She isn’t scared of wheelchairs or any medical device either. For Bradi, her love is unconditional.”

“I think it really helps that she prefers people to dogs,” said Sherri. “She will do anything for me, even when I ask her to dress-up for a therapy visit – as you can see from the Halloween pictures! – and she makes a real connection with people. She has a special way of touching and leaning on people. She makes eye contact with whomever she’s interacting with, and of course she gives kisses. She’s just a very special dog and the people she visits benefit from her love and sweet spirit.”

Paws On A Mission is always in need of therapy teams and especially ‘leashless volunteers’ to accompany the therapy dogs and their owners on visits. If you would like more information on how you can volunteer or donate, please contact Jade Frank at 828-213-0131 or jade.frank@msj.org.

A note from all of us at Animal Hospital of North Asheville:  Bradi is truly a special dog, everyone knows it, but we feel we need to add what a very special person Sherri is!  We send out a special thank you to Sherri (and Eric) not only for saving the lives of so many pets, but also for donating her time to help people through very difficult times!