Readers may recall my rescue Rottweiler, Annabelle, who was featured a few years ago in a TTRM article, “Street Dog to Obedience Dog to Therapy Dog” by Diane Richardson. Annabelle came to me as a rescue in October of 2006 at approximately one year old. We spent the next several months getting to know each other, and allowing her to get to know my male Rottweiler, Toby. After that, I enrolled her in a beginner’s obedience class at Suburban Dog Training Club, where I had been a member for several years and was training Toby for obedience competition. After completing beginners, we tested for and passed the Canine Good Citizen evaluation, a requirement for training in competition obedience classes. We then began training at a novice level for AKC obedience competition. During this period, I had quite a few medical problems with Toby, who ended up losing his sight (TTRM featured Toby in an article several years ago). Once Toby lost his sight, of course, I was unable to show him in AKC obedience. During the months that followed, I noticed how sad Toby was that he was not accompanying me to class or going out to train any more. It became quite apparent to me that he needed a “job.”

I thought deeply about what a blind Rottweiler could do, and concluded that perhaps being a therapy dog would suit him. I researched local therapy dog groups and ended up selecting Comfort Caring Canines, Inc. I knew a young lady on the BOD who provided me with information on what the evaluations encompassed. I was hesitant to put a blind dog through the evaluations, so I decided to enroll Annabelle for the obedience and temperament evaluations, so I could see exactly what they were like. Yes, I used Annabelle as a “guinea pig” so to speak. Annabelle passed both evaluations in March of 2008 and I felt confident that Toby would be able to withstand and pass the evaluations. So, in June 2008 I did the evaluations with Toby, which he passed with flying colors to the delight and tears of the testers and onlookers. Thus, while looking for a job for my blind Rottweiler to do, a whole new world of Therapy Work opened up to me!

Toby has since crossed the Rainbow Bridge, having put in countless hours of therapy visits in the short time he was certified. Annabelle and I have been on our own since April of 2009. I enjoyed the therapy work that I began with Toby so much that I continued with Annabelle. We alternated obedience training and competition with therapy visits. I have to admit that communicating to her the difference between when she MAY and MAY NOT interact with people was a bit of a challenge. Her natural desire is to meet and greet every single person she sees. Eventually she came to understand when she was “obedience working” and when she was “therapy dog working.” What a remarkably intelligent and intuitive breed the Rottweiler is!

Over the past five years, Annabelle has earned her AKC Companion Dog, Companion Dog Excellent, and Utility Dog titles. This was my very first Utility Dog title, and one of the highlights of my life! She’s also earned AKC Rally Novice, Rally Advanced and Rally Excellent titles. Since Annabelle is now nine years old, I have opted not to pursue a UDX title. I would like to earn a Versatility title on her, if she is able to perform the exercises. I’ve recently noticed her eyesight deteriorating a bit more (she has retinal deterioration that was most likely incurred in utero or as a very young puppy) and am not confident that she can accurately see my signals or follow the dumbbell being thrown. Once springtime comes and we resume training, I’ll be able to make an accurate assessment of her ability.

I believe it was in 2010 that the AKC established the Therapy Dog Titles, officially recognizing therapy dogs and awarding them titles based on their service. I immediately applied for and was awarded the Therapy Dog (THD) title for Annabelle. Most importantly, Annabelle just recently earned the AKC Therapy Dog Excellent Title (THDX), given to therapy dogs who have accomplished 200 visits. Since our visits can extend from an hour to two or two and a half hours each, this is a considerable accomplishment! The title certificate came from the AKC with a beautiful embroidered emblem and a magnificent medallion on a red, white and blue ribbon (see photo of Annabelle wearing her medallion).

I am a member of Colonial Rottweiler Club, which offers achievement awards based on the accomplishments of your Rottweiler. Points are awarded for all the various competition venues: obedience, tracking, rally obedience, agility, therapy dog service, and so on.

Awards on the bronze, silver, and gold levels. In 2011, she was awarded the “Seger Medallion” at Colonial Rottweiler Club’s Specialty Show (see photo of Annabelle taken by show photographer). This award is given each year to the Rottweiler who has
exemplified service to mankind and enhancing the lives of others through their therapy dog service. Annabelle has quite a unique personality in terms of therapy dog service.

If we enter a large room filled with people, she will intuitively go from one person, to the next, to the next, until she has personally greeted each one. To me, it is amazing that a dog who was thrown away at one point in her life can so love people. It is also amazing that everything I have ever asked this dog to do for me, she has done —with eagerness, willingness, and enthusiasm.

2014 ALS Association Holiday Party

2014 ALS Association Holiday Party

We have done countless hours of service in several nursing home facilities, at every level from independent, to assisted, to skilled nursing care. We’ve also attended functions for children affected with cleft palate (see photo of Annabelle and one of the children hugging her) and each year we are invited to attend the ALS Association’s Holiday Party for their patients (see photos of the 2014 ALS Association’s Holiday Party). We’ve attended numerous pet fairs and represented Comfort Caring Canines at their booths. We served for several years as visitors at a psychiatric facility as well.

Currently, we visit Saint Joseph Villa on a regular basis. The Villa is a large facility owned and operated by the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Flourtown, Pennsylvania. We have been visiting there for years (see photo of Annabelle and one of the Villa residents). It is an eight-story facility, with four wings on each floor. We can only visit one floor each time we go. The effect that Annabelle has on patients is remarkable.

sister marge I’ve seen a smile on a person’s face while petting her, and found out later that the person has had no prior response at all, not a smile or even the attempt to reach their
hand out. It’s incredible that such a simple thing as stroking a dog’s head or petting their back can mean so much to someone. Some of the people we visit have told us they love us. Many have thanked us over and over again for coming. A few years ago, I received a call on my cell phone from the Villa, informing me that one of the women we visit was dying. I was asked if I would bring Annabelle to visit her, and of course, we went that evening. This is one time that I did allow my dog to put her paws up on the patient’s bed, since she was unable to sit up or move. We gently placed her hand on Annabelle’s head, and helped her stroke her fur, and saw a beautiful, magnificent smile come across the woman’s face. This is one of the most touching, endearing moments I’ve ever experienced. This is what makes therapy dog service so worthwhile —the knowledge that you have made a difference in someone’s life!

If you’ve ever considered doing therapy service with your dog, I encourage you to give it a try. A well-structured therapy dog organization has rigid testing established that will determine if your dog has both the obedience skills and the temperament required to enter therapy dog service. Last, but certainly not least ,in our accomplishments, I submitted a beautiful action photo of Annabelle coming over a high jump with a dumbbell in the TTRM 2015 calendar contest (visit TTRM forum). I am thrilled to announce that the photograph was among the twelve that had the highest number of votes, and her photograph is featured on the November 2015 page of the calendar. This is quite thrilling, as many of the photos submitted to this contest were absolutely magnificent. I’m so proud to also have a pin-up girl!

In closing, I sincerely thank TTRM for the privilege and honor of featuring my rescue girl Annabelle. I thank Annabelle as well, for giving me more joy and teaching me more than I ever thought possible!


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Chesnut Hill Local Article

Caring canines comfort local residents most in need
Posted on February 13, 2015








Bob Dettery, president of Comfort Caring Canines (CCC), an all-volunteer local organization that’s been incorporated since the early 1990s, is seen with his therapy dog, Samantha, a 9-year old miniature Australian Shepherd who “gives the children an incentive to practice without fear of some type of failure.”j

by Karen Plourde

Alicia and Gene Harantschuk have witnessed the difference a dog can make in the life of someone with special needs. Alicia’s dad, James Jeffries, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for years, but she believes having a Rottweiler and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to care for gave him something to focus on other than his illness.
“My dad, from the back door to the steps, if he was going to get something, he couldn’t remember,” she said, “but he would look at his clock and say, ‘We gotta feed Topper’(the King Charles).”
After Jeffries died in 2011, Alicia and Gene, residents of Wyndmoor, wanted to do something constructive to honor his memory. More than three years, two dogs and a year of obedience training and testing later, they’re regular pet visitors with Comfort Caring Canines (CCC), an all-volunteer local organization that’s been incorporated since the early 1990s.
CCC brings dogs to residents of assisted living facilities, children at day care centers and other places where their presence can help others, according to Bob Dettery, a resident of Hatfield and president of the group. Members have brought their dogs to college campuses during finals week to help de-stress the students and to elementary schools to work with children who are having reading difficulties.
“They [the children] read their stories or books to the dogs, and the dogs are non-judgmental,” said Dettery, 61,who brings his nine-year old miniature Australian Shepherd, Samantha, along on visits. “It gives the children an incentive to practice without fear of some type of failure.”
The Harantschuks’ journey to become pet visitors had to start from square one; they didn’t have a dog. Alicia searched Pet Finder for three months, then saw a photo of Olivia, a Dachshund, online. and drove to Upstate New York to meet her. “They didn’t even have her out of the kennel yet, and I went, ‘Yeah, I’ll take her, and if the other one’s a girl, I’ll take that one,’” she recalled.
Alas, the other Dachshund was a male. Also, because the breed tends to be stubborn and not used to working with their owners, Alicia, 43, had doubts as to whether Olivia would make a good therapy dog. They decided to keep Olivia but then went to Main Line Animal Rescue in Phoenixville to look for an older Labrador as their second dog.
“Gene kept saying, ‘Did you see that Pit Bull puppy in the front room?’ … But I’m like, we have these older dogs, and they need a home, and [they] kind of go with what we’d like to do,” she said. “And he goes, ‘I don’t know, that Pit Bull puppy is calling my name.’ So we spent two days with the rescue, and we got the two of them together, and we came home with a Pit Bull puppy. And they have both turned out to be amazing.”
Following a year’s worth of training, Vegas (the two-year old Pit Bull mix) and Olivia (the almost three-year-old Dachshund), were tested on their temperament and obedience by CCC. Dettery said the group tries to do these evaluations four times a year; the fee is $35.
“…They’re gonna pull ears, pull their tail, open up their mouth, put their hand in their mouths…they’re gonna use a walker, someone’s gonna go up to them with a wheelchair…” Alicia said.






Following a year’s worth of training, Vegas, a two-year old Pit Bull mix, and Olivia, an almost three-year-old Dachshund, both belonging to Alicia and Gene Harantschuk of Wyndmoor, were certified as therapy dogs by CCC. Once CCC clears a dog for the program, its owners will get a list of facilities that have requested visits by the dogs. (Photo by Frankie Plourde)

For the obedience portion, dogs have to heel on a leash and do a 90-second “sit/stay” command or a 90-second “down/stay.” Once CCC clears a dog for the program, its owners will get a list of facilities that have requested visits. There are about 60 active members in CCC right now, and Dettery said he gets at least one new request a week from various facilities or programs.
The Harantschuks decided early on to go beyond the typical pet visit. “We wanted to make connections with people,” Alicia said. “We just kind of wanted to take them away from what’s going on.” So they decided to teach their dogs to perform in front of a group. Vegas now knows about 75 commands, including tricks and obedience, and Olivia can do 25-30 commands. Their collection of maneuvers includes everything from Vegas playing basketball to Olivia weaving in and out of a walker to Olivia jumping through a hoop or over Vegas. The dogs and Gene and Alicia go to between two and four facilities per month; they were recently approved to start making visits at Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Alicia, who works in the hedge fund department at Morgan Stanley during the week, has found the visits help her stay connected to her dad. “I think it’s been the most rewarding experience of my life,” she said. “You meet everybody, from nurses to activities directors to the residents, and it’s elderly and children and intellectually challenged. It’s a wide range, but yet, what we’re doing connects with everybody.” Her husband, 55, is a driver for Riders Club Cooperative.
Every now and then, a volunteer will be a witness to a breakthrough from a client or resident that happens because of their dog, according to Dettery, a semi-retired regulatory consultant to the pharmaceutical industry. “One person I had Samantha visit had not spoken for months,” he recalled. “When she started touching the dog, she started saying, ‘Nice dog, nice dog.’ The staff there was amazed because it was the first thing that she had said in a long time.”
Norm Vetter, a consulting therapist who co-coordinates a weekly activity program for intellectually challenged adults at Northwestern Human Services (NHS) in Mt. Airy, feels the visits from the Harantschuks and their dogs bring excitement and stimulation to a group whose members are often isolated.
“When they bring the dogs, I think the group experiences what we all experience with pets, which is unconditional love,” he said. “The dogs are friendly and welcoming, and they respond to people paying attention to them, and having that kind of response back is very validating for the members of the group.”
Alicia advises dog owners who want to get into pet therapy to do their homework and take it from there. “If you need a little bit of work, there are places that can help you,” she said. “You can take an obedience class…if you think your dog has the temperament to do it, do it. There’s just nothing that I’ve had that you can compare to it.”
Comfort Caring Canines conducts monthly orientation sessions for prospective members at various locations.

For more information, visit or email

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Our new Facebook page is up and running!


The facebook page is up and running!

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Our New CCC Brochure Sponsor

Sponsoring our New CCC Brochure

Sponsoring our New CCC Brochure

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Can Your dog become a therapy Dog?


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About Comfort Caring Canines…


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Roxy Reading

Some of our certified Comfort Caring Therapy Dog teams participate in programs through Roxy Reading that aim to encourage children to read as well as help to build self-confidence.

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