AKC Gazette
AKC Gazette

Meet Maya
by Kathy Cipriani

Guest columnist Kathy Cipriani is a member of the Labrador Retriever Club and Pawcatuck River LRC. She has three Labradors, competes in obedience and conformation, and has a newly certified Delta Society therapy dog.

Princess Maya Nikita has never strutted her stuff in the conformation ring, yet her beauty is apparent in her soulful brown eyes and creamy yellow coat. She's never performed in the obedience ring, but that she is well behaved and obedient is obvious as soon as you meet her. And she's never retrieved a duck or a pheasant, though she takes great delight in delivering a tissue when someone sneezes. You'd be hard pressed to find a better representative of the breed we love so much. Maya, 8 years old, is a Delta Society certified therapy dog. Together with her owner and best friend, Barbara Cambria, she has spent the last six years bringing smiles and hope to people of all ages.

From the time Maya was a puppy, Barbara noticed how easily she interacted with people. She seemed to be able to make them smile and speak to her spontaneously, and Barbara realized that her dog had a very special spirit that had to be shared. Beginning with a local group of like-minded dog owners, and later after being certified by the Delta Society, Maya made her visits. A typical schedule for Barbara and Maya consists of three to four visits per month to a local hospital, and weekly visits to two area nursing homes. In addition, Barbara and Maya work with two to three hospice patients a year. When school is in session, Maya makes regular visits to Barbara's remedial reading classes at a local middle school; there the dog is a calming presence, enabling the students to concentrate on their work and stimulating their writing and communication skills. The youngsters often read aloud to Maya, who sits patiently, watching their faces lovingly.

Perhaps Maya's most impressive work involved a 9-year-old-girl. She had been forced to give up her own dog when her father became terminally ill. Maya visited the man weekly and comforted the little girl by doing tricks and being available for hugs and snuggling. For eight months after the man's death, the child barely spoke. Her dull eyes and limited smiles were indicative of the level of her pain. Teaching Maya new tricks, taking her for long walks, and drawing pictures of their adventures together finally helped lift the little girl's sorrow. She wrote an essay about her dad, detailing all the feelings she had kept locked inside. Sadly, her mother also fell ill, requiring nursing home care, and the child moved in with other family members. Through all the upheaval, she said that Maya's visits helped her to "fill up the space" and "learn to enjoy my life again".

Barbara says that therapy dog work takes many hours of hard effort, but it is worth it. She says it's all about what she refers to as the "moment", that instant when everything comes together and she intuitively knows that the person she's visiting is at last peaceful and content.

You can learn more about therapy dog work by visiting the Delta Society's web site at www.deltasociety.org. - K.C.

The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc., is the single organization officially recognized by the American Kennel Club as the national parent club of the Labrador Retriever. The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc., was incorporated in October 1931, in the state of New York, and is not affiliated with any other association titled or claiming to be the National Labrador Retriever Club.