| Cape Cod Times
When Deborah Horner and Monique Tedino took Horner’s therapy dogs to Sandy Hook Elementary School six months after the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, they saw firsthand how dogs can help people.
Tedino recalled a little boy putting his head down on one of the dogs while he cried petting her, saying “I miss my brother.” But within five minutes the boy got up and went to play with the other kids, she said.
“By the end of that weekend I was completely transformed,” said Tedino, who had been afraid of dogs ever since one bit her when she was a child. “I got to see what magic these dogs can perform.”
The two women have since formed The Southeastern MASS Paws of Comfort Lions Club, a branch of the District 33S Lions Club that serves Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the Islands. The club brings therapy dogs to those in need and is looking to expand its services to the Cape.
“We’re just people helping people in any way we can, and the dogs just want to be out helping people four paws at a time,” Horner said. “We’re just spreading love on a leash, that’s all.”
Horner and Tedino, who are from Attleboro, will work with people who have dogs to get their dog certified.
The club has trainers registered with the American Kennel Club who are willing to go to the Cape to train dogs in a group setting. Once a dog meets the qualifications, the trainer will conduct a certification test, Horner said.
People who do not have a dog can also join and help out in other ways, such as accompanying comfort dogs to schools, nursing homes and hospitals.
Horner and Tedino, who met through the Lions Club and became friends, got the idea of the therapy dog club after attending a Lions specialty club seminar in Connecticut last year.
Horner has been working with therapy dogs for 17 years, bringing them into nursing homes, hospitals and schools. When she brought her dogs to a playground dedication ceremony for one of the victims from Sandy Hook, she said, a long line of people waited to see them.
“You would think I was giving ice cream away,” Horner said.
Horner, herself a disabled veteran, said she knows from experience how much dogs can save people. If she did not have her own dogs, Luna and Finnegan, to take outside, she might never leave the house, Horner said.
Dogs do not see color, and they do not need words to provide comfort, she said.
“They can just take you out of that moment of whatever you’re experiencing,” Horner said. “That trauma that you’re enduring or that bad day.”
The club, which was formally organized in August and had its induction ceremony in October, has about 30 members so far in Southeastern Massachusetts, with some in Attleboro, Franklin and Plymouth.
While much of the club’s activities are paused due to COVID-19 restrictions that limit therapy dogs coming into hospitals, nursing homes and schools, Horner and Tedino are preparing for when operations return to normal.
If there is any year that someone could use comfort, Horner said, this is it.
Teachers, nurses and doctors who have dealt with the pandemic since March could especially use a therapy dog, Horner said, and she hopes she can bring her dogs somewhere soon when restrictions loosen.
A couple of people from the Cape have expressed interest in joining the club with their dogs, including Buzzards Bay resident Christine McMahon and her dog, Snowflake.
McMahon heard about the club on the radio and was immediately interested. She got Snowflake, a white golden retriever, two and a half years ago after the death of her 23-year-old son.
“Who doesn’t love a dog?” McMahon said. “They’re just so sweet. I know the joy that it brings me when I see a dog. No matter what mood I’m in I just light up. I’m sure other people are like that.”
Snowflake is signed up to take classes through Joseph’s Obedience Training in Bourne. McMahon also will join the Sandwich-Bourne Lions Club, and hopes that when Snowflake is fully trained and nursing homes start letting people in, she can bring in her dog to provide comfort to the elderly.
Horner and Tedino are looking for more people to volunteer and create their own Cape branch. There are several Lions Clubs on the Cape, and Horner and Tedino hope members will step up to take over the cause.
Anybody interested in volunteering can contact Tedino and Horner on the group’s Facebook page or can call them at 508-889-2185 or 508-431-0282.
“If somebody is looking to be a part of something great and wonderful that makes them feel good about them and giving back, then we’re you’re club,” Horner said.
Contact Jessica Hill at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @jess_hillyeah.