Category Archives: special dogs and awards

Even a short visit can improve the day

Snowy and Mum

A dog doesn’t have to be a certified therapy dog to brighten someone’s day – it just needs to be well-trained and sociable.

Here is Snowy, a Labradoodle, with my Mum.  Snowy lives next door and makes visits for cuddles and treats (but especially treats).

If you have elderly people in your neighborhood, consider reaching out to them with your well-behaved dog.  A visit by a friendly dog can really brighten the day.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand


Bretagne, the 9/11 dog, celebrates her 16th birthday

Bretagne is the last known surviving search and rescue dog from 9/11.  That’s special.  Here is how she celebrated her day…

Norbert: the little therapy dog with a series of books


Norbert shows his High Five (photo courtesy of

Norbert is a special therapy dog.  He’s a very tiny (3-pound) cross-breed who was the only puppy born to his dog mother in California.  His owners believe he is a Chihuahua, Cairn Terrier  and Lhasa Apso cross.  Adopted in 2009 from, Norbert was his human mother’s first-ever dog and he traveled to Boston to live with her.

At the age of one, he passed his therapy dog tests and began working with children and the elderly. Along the way he learned new tricks like High Five, Namaste (stay) and Zen (lie down).

Then his mom decided to write a book, and then another, and (soon) another….

Book 1: Norbert - What can little me do?

Book 1: Norbert – What can little me do?

Book 2: Norbert - What can little you do?

Book 2: Norbert – What can little you do?

Book 3 (due out in November 2015): Norbert & Lil Bub - What can little we do?

Book 3 (due out in November 2015): Norbert & Lil Bub – What can little we do?

Therapy dogs are special dogs providing important emotional support services to those in need.  I like the fact that there are children’s books featuring Norbert – if we tell children about dogs and their personalities, and teach them lessons along the way, we set them up to be compassionate adults who are prepared to be responsible pet owners.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Leisa & Indy’s NZ Charity Cycleway Journey

Leisa McNaughton and her dog Indy, a Border Collie/Bernese Mountain Dog cross, will commence a 4-month journey on 1st October 2015 to travel the length of New Zealand.

Their journey will begin in Cape Reinga and travel using tracks that are part of Nga Haerenga The New Zealand Cycle Trail and connector routes.

On her Facebook page, Leisa says, “My aim is to encourage others to join me in the sights and sounds of our wonderful country while cycling the length of NZ and fundraising for my 13 chosen charities.”  These charities , all regional, will include:

  • Sport Northland Whangarei
  • Auckland Rescue Helicopter Auckland
  • Cambridge Riding for the Disabled Cambridge
  • Cranford Hospice Hastings
  • The Capital Performing Arts Wellington
  • Marlborough Falcon Conservation Trust Blenheim
  • Menzshed Waimea
  • The Tasman Environmental Trust Richmond, Nelson
  • Westcoast Coastguard Greymouth
  • Canterbury SPCA Christchurch
  • Otago Medical Research Foundation Dunedin
  • Number 10 Invercargill
Indy tests his trailer before the big journey starts (photo by Leisa)

Indy tests his trailer before the big journey starts (photo by Leisa)

Leisa says she and Indy “chose each other” at the SPCA about six years ago.  She attributes her recovery from severe depression and burnout to, in part, Indy’s non-judgmental support and companionship.

Indy will ride in a specially designed trailer during the pair’s journey together.

You can follow Leisa and Indy on their Facebook page.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

The dental therapy dog

Just when you think I’ve run out of ways to report on new ways dogs are working as assistance/therapy dogs…I introduce you to Flossie.

Appropriately named, Flossie is a dental therapy dog.

Lexa and Flossie: (From left) Dr. Alan Golden, Elysia Yriarte and Natalia Caraballo smile for the camera while petting Flossie, a dental therapy dog, and her half-sister Lexa, a dental therapy dog-in-training.  (photo courtesy of American Dental Association)

Lexa and Flossie: (From left) Dr. Alan Golden, Elysia Yriarte and Natalia Caraballo smile for the camera while petting Flossie, a dental therapy dog, and her half-sister Lexa, a dental therapy dog-in-training. (photo courtesy of American Dental Association)

At the 10,000-square-foot Virginia facility, Golden Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics, Flossie is free to run around with one job: to make people comfortable wherever they are. Flossie has been coming to the office since she was 8 weeks old in 2012.

“I would say, ‘Back to work,’ and she goes out and finds a lap to sit on, or sometimes she cuddles with the kids,” Dr. Golden said. “She’s good at it.”

With the success of Flossie, Dr. Golden said he’s been considering creating a resource for dentists who are interested in using therapy dogs in their practice.

Flossie, a Cavachon (Bichon Frise/Cavalier King Charles Spaniel cross), received her therapy dog certification from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.  New patients are informed that Flossie works at the practice so they are ready for her presence in the office when they arrive.

For patients that are particularly frightened of dogs, or who have severe allergies, Flossie is sent to her official resting area, which is fenced off and has a dog bed.

Dr Golden’s partner in practice is so impressed by what Flossie brings to the practice that he has his own dental therapy dog in training, Lexa.

Source:  American Dental Association

Kess’ story – Part 2

When dealing with dogs with special needs, one of the key principles is ‘management.’  Management can take a range of forms, but it always involves adapting and changing lifestyle to suit the dog.

In Kess’ case, Ian and Jan accepted that her on-lead behaviour was going to be almost impossible to eradicate.  They adapted their walking routines to suit.

Kess would have a short daytime walk in a quiet area and then a longer evening walk either in a park or very often through the central city of Christchurch. This worked well as there were plenty of people about her but very few other animals.  Ian and Jan felt that they were making some progress with the reactivity and could happily take her into quite busy areas.

Unfortunately, the Canterbury earthquakes which started in September 2010 with another large jolt in February 2011 halted that progress.  Since the earthquakes, Kess’ anxiety levels have remained at very high levels.  She has become much more anxious of strangers which has meant adapting the walking routine.   For the first 18 months, the family continued to walk through the central city at night, following the Avon River around the outside of the Red Zone cordons (for those that don’t know, the central city area was heavily damaged and evacuated).  Jan and Ian quickly learned that hi-vis wear and army cordons were a cause of stress for Kess so avoided them.  Despite these concerns, Jan and Ian found these walks peaceful and reflective.

Post-quakes, Kess’ health issues have also been more of a problem for her.  In my opinion, Kess was already a very sensitive dog and the earthquakes simply added to her load – further weakening her stressed immune system.

She contracted toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease, probably from drinking from a puddle or other contaminated water source in 2012 (cats are regular carriers of toxoplasmosis). She suffered seizures and general ill health for several months.  “We almost lost her.” Treatment was a mixture of veterinary care and natural animal health care and remedies.

Then, in 2013 when the couple were staying in temporary accommodation while their earthquake-damaged house was repaired, Kess had a major episode with pain in her spine which left her immobilised and howling in pain. An emergency trip to the vet and medication followed. In a bid to reduce the medication she had several acupuncture sessions but became resistant to this.  “She has an amazing ability to turn into a solid, resistant brick when she doesn’t want to do something,” says Jan.

This led the couple to look to yet more alternatives. This is when Jan contacted me and we entered a whole new realm of support for Kess’ health.   I used massage, manual acupressure and laser therapies with Kess and she started swimming at the Dog Swim Spa.   Kess was unable to benefit from swimming because she developed a stress reaction to the shower which was a necessity after each swim  in a chlorinated pool.  So , we agreed that swimming be dropped from Kess’ therapy.  But an osteopath was added in 2014 to help release Kess’ back tension.

Osteopathy and massage therapy work very well in conjunction with one another and so the current plan is to keep up with both.


More recently, Ian and Jan have noticed that Kess’ anxiety levels have been on the rise and she has been out of sorts which included frequently shaking her head and looking distressed.   She also developed an aversion to the laser and its ‘beeping’ noise and so we’ve dropped that from her regime. After ruling out any ear or tooth problems a specialist vet has recommended Kess undergo an MRI examination to rule out any possible deeper issues with her brain, inner ears or throat area.

Because Kess has been anxious, Jan has also been anxious about their daytime walks.  We discussed cutting back on walks in favor of playing in the family’s yard.  And what we talked about was the fact that Kess was never truly ‘free’ because her anxiety condition prevented Jan and Ian from taking her to a dog park or similar off-leash area.  We needed to re-group about Kess’ mental health.

Luckily, the owner at Top Notch Kennels agreed to allow Kess a weekly visit to their large exercise yard.  At last, Kess is able to blow off some steam and be a ‘real’ dog.  At first tentative and keeping close to Jan, within a few visits Kess found her feet and is now running free without harness or lead. Her smile says it all. Jan has noticed an improvement in her personality. “This has been fantastic for Kess – what a joy to see her joy at being free to just be herself and she still runs in mad, crazy circles but so far no more forward-rolls. I do though have to keep an eye on the sheep over the back hedge – I’m not convinced she couldn’t jump the fence with enough speed on!”

Kess looking free and regal, clearly enjoying her off-lead time

Kess looking free and regal, clearly enjoying her off-lead time

Ian and Jan love Kess and are devoted to her, acknowledging that she has been hard work and a significant investment of their time.

“Although our experiences with Kess have been very challenging on many levels she has also taught us many things and caused us to go places and experience things we most definitely would not have without her. We have discovered interesting places and explored corners of the city we had never known. The most special times were our walks through the dark and silent city following the February 2011 quake. We would never have had that unique experience without our very special girl.”

“Most of the time, 99 per cent, she is the most obedient, quiet and well behaved dog we have ever shared our home with. She is just as happy to spend the whole day snoozing on her couch in the sun as she is excited to be going out somewhere in the car. She is very smart, loves to play find and seek with her toys and has a very effective way of communicating to us just what she needs. Someone commented recently that we should have had her put to sleep as there are plenty of ‘good’ dogs out there who need homes but in our opinion every dog deserves a chance to live a good, happy life. When we see love and trust returned in her eyes it makes everything worth it.”

I think what Kess’ story proves is that ‘difficult’ dogs can still be loveable pets (one trainer suggested she be euthanized when their attempts at training Kess ‘by the book’ failed).  These dogs just need more time and effort invested in them; we need more people willing to stick with the tough times – a loving companion and lifelong relationship awaits.


A sleepy Kess after a recent massage session

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Kess’ story – Part 1

Kess is a special massage client – they are all specially, really, but Kess is special because it seems to me that some dogs are just set up in life to have it rough.  Kess is definitely one of those dogs.

Kess’ owner, Jan, has helped write this story because Kess’ story is long and complicated and it’s important to get the facts right.

So here goes…

Kess was adopted from Dogwatch, an adoption agency, in September 2007.  Jan and husband Ian had ruled her out prior to visiting the kennels because they’d seen her on the website and thought she was a bit odd looking as well as having been returned once by an adoptive family. However, as they were leaving the kennels after not seeing the ‘right’ dog, they had to step over one lying in the reception entrance snoozing.

The dog suddenly rolled onto its back and indicated a tummy rub would be needed. “This was the dog we were not going to even consider and this was the beginning of our life with Kess.”

Although dogs had been members of their family before, Jan admits that everything they thought they knew about dogs had to go out the window.  Living with Kess was very challenging time right from the word ‘go.’ Ian and Jan tried  to return her to Dogwatch but, thankfully, they were full and couldn’t take her back.

This was a dog who had experienced a terrible and hard puppyhood.

For the next year, the family lived under siege until Kess settled in and developed more trust.  They hired Els from Trainimals because she had already met Kess when she was in the kennels.  She brought in another trainer for a second opinion.  His assessment was that she was definitely not aggressive but anxious and only time and love was going to help.

This has proven very true.

Kess is a very curious dog and has a very high prey-drive.  Like Superman, she can bounce over 6 foot fences with ease.   Ian and Jan thought they had big fences before Kess arrived, but since then they have been heightened, strengthened and mostly double fenced.

Yet despite her hunting instincts, Kess proves that she is soft-hearted.  On the odd occasion where her ‘hunting’ has been successful – a duckling and a mouse – she spat them out and watched as they ran off.  Recently Jan had to pick her up and carry her past a wild rat who was sadly dying on the property and lay in the path Kess needed to take to enter the house.

Ian and Jan celebrated when Kess finally relaxed enough during a walk to pee outside her home ground – it took a year.

She is very reactive to other animals but she can socialise successfully in a controlled setting. Now and again a friend will visit with her dog and it is great fun watching the two dogs playing and then collapsing in an exhausted, happy heap afterwards.

One of the biggest challenges has been Kess’ strength when pulling on lead. She walks beside the couple beautifully until she sees something which makes her anxious. When I visit for massage sessions with Kess, there is a lovely framed photo of Kess on her first day home. Attached to the photo frame are two straightened pieces of thick steel. These were the metal pieces on collars where you clip on a lead or rope. Both of these were straightened at times when Kess had been temporarily tied up and seen something she wanted to investigate.  Like Superman, Kess was no match for steel!

Healthwise, Kess came with a set of digestive problems.  She wasn’t food motivated and was a nervous and picky eater.  She developed severe colitis before Ian and Jan were finally able to work with their vet to find the right diet for her. which is turkey-based.  Kess’ stomach is very sensitive and occasionally she still suffers reflux and diarrhoea.

She also had problems with her spine right from the start and a propensity to doing forward-rolls amongst the sand dunes at the beach did cause some issues early on.  A naturopath prescribed remedies for digestion, joint health and anxiety.

In terms of reviewing her health history, I think Kess had a weakened immune system from her hard months as a neglected puppy which probably made her more vulnerable to disease and dysfunction.

Those early, developmental months, matter to a dog’s health and well-being and if a puppy is not well-cared for early, I believe in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM ) terms that a lot of life energy, or qi, is lost. These dogs are not balanced and this leaves their bodies vulnerable in terms of disease.

In Part 2, we hear that Kess’ health problems were far from over… and how Jan and Ian remain dedicated to her care.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand