Beth Berry & Therapy Dog Emma Louisa

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

Beth Berry, 50, and her fawn-colored Chihuahua Emma Louisa, 11, of the San Jose area make an eye-catching pair whether they are attending obedience competitions nationwide or volunteering as a pet therapy team for patients of Community Hospice of Northeast Florida.

BethBerry_03Berry began Emma’s basic puppy training at six months. By age 1-1/2 Emma mastered obedience training with such ease they began to attend Canine Freestyle Federation (CFF) freestyle obedience competitions where Emma competes against dogs of all sizes. Emma has earned the highest CFF level IV ranking; her obedience competition performances choreographed to music highlight CFF’s website, Caninefreestyle.org. During a visit to Berry’s father, Edward, in hospice, Berry recognized Emma’s other unique traits.

“Emma has a great personality, is calm, loving and so intelligent. She goes everywhere with me.  When I took her to visit my dad at Community Hospice of Northeast Florida Hadloe Center for Caring on Sunbeam Road, she was a great comfort to him. I realized that she could help others the same way,” Berry said. “So she completed pet therapy classes to become a certified therapy dog. After certification and a year of training and experience, we began to volunteer together at the center.”

According to Dan Batty, Community Hospice Manager of Volunteer Services, Beth and Emma are a team and both have an amazing ability to connect with and comfort patients.
“Beth has her role and Emma has her own role to play although they work so closely together as a team. Dogs do not have to bark to communicate and Emma knows when to lie still, wag her tail or lick a finger or face to cheer a patient who may miss their own pet, or just love animals,” Batty said.

Along with their work as Hadloe Center volunteers, Berry and Emma serve as Community Hospice ambassadors to community events where they distribute information and educational material. Emma was featured on the 2012 Community Hospice calendar and she and Berry also volunteer for presentations to new volunteers during training orientations according to Batty.

During their hospice visits, Berry said that they spend time with both the patients and families She described the challenge of never quite knowing what to expect when they first go into a patient’s room.

“Sometimes we are just there to spend time together…to provide comfort and companionship. The patients can request a pet therapy visit upon admittance to the facility, so I already know that they want to see a pet therapy dog,” she said. “They may be separated from their own pets because of their illness.”

BethBerry_01Berry’s father suffered with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for 40 years and Berry began to volunteer for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society North Florida chapter soon after moving to Jacksonville. She has seen what the organization does for patients and families: how they impact the lives of people with MS, an inflammatory autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) causing serious physical and mental difficulties.

“For the past 18 years I have volunteered for the MS society here in a variety of ways,” she said. “I do the MS Walk every year. I’ve been on committees, helped with programs and services, events, whatever is needed. MS is such a horrible disease. I am bound and determined… so motivated to help raise funds to find a cure. The people at our local chapter are amazing and they do such wonderful things for MS patients.”

Berry is a professional corporate trainer with a large Jacksonville medical firm. She and Emma have been active with the Obedience Club of Jacksonville for 10 years and continue to take classes and train. She just adopted a rescue tri-colored year-old Chihuahua, Olivia, from Jacksonville’s Animal Care & Protective Services. Berry is already training Olivia to follow in Emma’s paw prints starting with obedience training and later as a pet therapy dog.

“Olivia has already shown me that she has the perfect temperament for a pet therapy dog,” Berry said. “I love to be with my dogs, go out to dog-friendly restaurants with our friends or yappy hour at the Landing and especially volunteering with Emma. I have enjoyed every moment of volunteering.”

Berry encouraged readers to visit the Community Hospice and the National Multiple Sclerosis North Florida chapter websites for more information on volunteer opportunities from a few times per year to monthly, weekly or daily activities for individuals, families and groups.

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