Kristin and Lina: The Therapy Dog Team

Kristin and Lina are a Therapy Dog Team who help to make a difference in the lives of others! This month, we were able to speak with Kristin and ask her some questions about the work that she and Lina do!

Tell us about Lina and how the two of you became a team!

Lina is continuing the work of Vinnie, the Bullmastiff, who was also a therapy dog. He died suddenly of a heart attack, and we were devastated. Someone from my therapy dog group said Lina needed to be re-homed and had the perfect temperament to do therapy work. She moved in with us at 7 months old and was certified in less than a year.

You can watch more about the story of Vinnie and Jonathan before Vinnie passed away here:

Seeing how gentle Lina was with Jonathan inspired Kristin to get Lina certified too. For these friends, it’s clear that as their bond continues to grow—they will too.

Can you share with us a little bit about Lina's breed, age, and personality?
Lina is a 5-year-old English Mastiff. She is the most easygoing and sweetest dog I have ever met. She is sassy and goofy and makes me laugh every day. She loves all dogs and people and enjoys being out and about and interacting in the community.

What are Lina's favorite hobbies/interests?
Lina loves swimming at daycare and interacting with her dog friends and people. She also never turns down a car ride and will sit for hours and "people watch".

What kind of training did Lina undergo to become a certified therapy dog?
Lina worked with a trainer to get her CGC (Canine Good Citizen) certificate. We also do ongoing work with Giving Paws (my local therapy dog group). The group meets monthly, and the dogs work on interacting appropriately with each other and people in the community.

We meet at various places to expose the dogs to different venues/distractions (community events, the mall, park walking paths, etc.)

To become a Certified Therapy Dog with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Lina and I had to pass a handling test to ensure that we had a good relationship with each other and that Lina had the right temperament for therapy dog work. She also needed to have basic obedience skills and be tolerant of all parts of her body being touched (face, paws, ears), be able to ignore other dogs within 2 feet away and show no reaction to durable medical equipment (crutches, wheelchairs, walkers, etc.)

After passing these portions, there were two supervised visits at Brookdale Senior Center for the tester/evaluator to instruct us on the art of visiting and give advice and guidance while observing us in action.

What are some of the most rewarding experiences you've had with Lina while working as a therapy dog team?
As an LAX PUPs (Pets Unstressing Passengers), Lina met a flight attendant, who had been brutally attacked by a dog. She said that Lina was the first dog she wasn't terrified of. She asked if she could sit with us on the floor and gradually moved closer until she pet Lina with tears streaming down her face. She called it a breakthrough.

At Hope Gardens, Lina deals with battered women and children, many of which have experienced trauma and do not trust people. Most of the time, the residents just sit and hug her, and many kids who have shut down make eye contact and talk to her.

How do you feel therapy dogs like Lina contribute to the mental and emotional well-being of the people they interact with?
  1. Developing social skills
  2. Teaching empathy and proper interpersonal skills
  3. Develop skills to pick up social cues required for human relationships
  4. Stress relief
  5. Improved mood

What advice would you offer to someone interested in training their dog to become a therapy dog?
  1. Basic Obedience
  2. Constant exposure to dog-friendly stores/locations - Lowe's/Home Depot, parks, the mall
  3. Practice with crowds, sounds (horns, intercoms, music, machinery)
  4. Avoiding other dogs in public (while working)
  5. Always work on "loose leash" walking - no pulling
What are some common misconceptions people may have about therapy dogs, and how do you address those misconceptions?
People need help understanding the difference between therapy and service dogs. I have handouts, and I explain on visits the key differences. A therapy dog is NOT a service dog and is not allowed on planes or in all public places. A service dog is specially trained to perform tasks that mitigate a handler's disability, and they CANNOT be pet in public. A therapy dog is trained to bring comfort and joy to those in a hospital, school, or other group care environments and CAN be pet in public.

How has having Lina as a therapy dog impacted your own life and well-being?
Lina is my personal therapy dog. She brings me great joy and makes me laugh every day. She allows me to make a difference in the community and with my students, which is not only my stress relief but is very fulfilling.

What purpose has the Big Barker played in Lina's life and health?
Lina suffered a partial Canine Cruciate Injury (CCL) injury two years ago and now has arthritis in her joint. Her Big Barker bed provides orthopedic support, and she can walk on/off it easily without tripping or having to jump.

We also have the crate pad, which we had to use during her year of rehab. She needed to be confined for several weeks in her crate.

What role did you have in being one of the first people to be able to try out the new Big Barker Bed frame?

We are long-time customers and fans and have done multiple reviews on behalf of Big Barker. So we were honored to be able to do an “unboxing and review" of the new bed frame.

How does Lina like having the Big Barker bed frame?
Lina loves her bed and frame ALMOST as much as the couch. So she is on it often. Plus, it faces the tv…which is her second favorite pastime next to swimming.

You can view the unboxing and review of the bed frame below! 

Finally, can you share with us any upcoming projects or events you and Lina are working on as a therapy dog team?
  • Continued visits to Hope Gardens and Oakmont Senior Living
  • Walk to End Alzheimer's on Saturday, October 7th
  • We also do a fundraising calendar every year with photos of Lina. We sell them and donate all the profits to the AZ Mastiff Rescue. This year we raised $500!