Spotlight: Pet Therapy

Spotlight: Pet Therapy

Spotlight: The Total Doberman



Animal-Assisted Therapy or “Pet Therapy” is becoming widely recognized as an invaluable form of treatment.  Patients who have not responded well to other types of treatment usually respond well to animals.  This type of therapy is not restricted to patients, however.  It has been used successfully with at-risk teens, convicts and with the elderly in nursing homes.

DPCA member Irene Wilcox, and her Doberman Bullet, are part of the Pet Therapy Volunteer Team at Mercy Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  This is their story:


Irene and Bullet

Irene and Bullet

Bullet began competing in the show ring at six months of age, and

Gr. Ch. ADAMAS Shock and Awe  WAC THDN CGC winning Best of Breed under Judge Ken Buxton handled by Ashley Shaffter

Gr. Ch. ADAMAS Shock and Awe WAC THDN CGC winning Best of Breed under Judge Ken Buxton handled by Ashley Shaffter

finished as a Grand Champion shortly after he was two years old.

I began researching different Therapy Dog organizations in our area; West Michigan Therapy Dogs was my first choice.  Intermediate obedience training was the first prerequisite, and then a pre-screen temperament test was given by the organization.  After that we started a six- week Therapy Dog training course.  When we began, I couldn’t fathom how they were going to fill two hours each week, for six weeks!  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  There was so much information and training/theory exercises to cover, that it was easy to run over class time. Completion of the course was followed by another test.  Each “team” (handler and dog) was observed for behavior and reaction under unusual and stressful situations and in different environments – such as simulated hospital, nursing home, or other facility – that may be encountered.  Reactions to loud noises, unusual smells, crowds, and pushing or jarring the dog unexpectedly were observed, as well as the dog’s ability to obey commands immediately.During this time many of us noticed what a calm, sweet disposition he had, and how he seemed to enjoy being with all kinds of people and other dogs, and was unruffled by any setting or situation. Several people mentioned, even at that time, what a great Therapy Dog he would make.  However, the real test came when an entire troop of Girl Scouts, attending a show, surrounded him en masse…. he simply loved every second!   I think at that moment I knew what his true calling was.   As I read somewhere, Therapy Dogs are born, not made.

In order to participate in actual patient- assisted therapy, Bullet and I had to complete further testing and training to become part of Pet Partners, a requirement for aiding at the Rehabilitation Hospital and the Children’s Hospital.

Bullet is the most requested Delta Therapy dog at the hospital where he works.   He brings so much joy and comfort to very sick children.

Bullet is the most requested Delta Therapy dog at the hospital where he works. He brings so much joy and comfort to very sick children.

As a novice Therapy team, I thought that Bullet and I should visit many different facilities so that I could, as his advocate, determine what he seemed to prefer. We visited nursing homes, a Ronald McDonald Home, a facility for troubled teens, Ruff Readers programs for children, a rehabilitation hospital, and a major hospital in our area.  What surfaced was that we both had a lean toward visiting the rehab Hospital, Ruff Readers, and both the larger and children’s hospitals.   Bullet’s preference, without a doubt, is anyplace that includes kids.

Because of the unfortunate stigma of the “ferocious”, “dangerous” and “scary” Doberman, we have, at times, been met with surprise (because of his size), skepticism, and wariness.  I accept these reactions and try to answer with understanding and education.  However, all of those reactions are quelled, almost instantly, as they touch him and quickly sense his sweet nature and calm spirit.  Far more often we are met with exclamations of what a beautiful animal he is, what calmness he imparts, and what a caring dog he is.  So many people are touched with his ability to sense their need. I find that often patients undergoing chemo treatment just seem to open up – and perhaps in the process sort out their own feelings in a safe environment, when Bullet and I visit.   Speaking for myself and Bullet, too, we are touched by so many of them as well.  I have been told, so many times, how thankful people are for bringing Bullet to them, and how they look forward to the days we visit. These reactions have far surpassed anything I could have imagined.



The DPCA is very proud of Irene and Bullet.  Irene is an asset to our club and Bullet is a wonderful representative of our breed.  We cherish the members who engage with the public in meaningful ways and we encourage all members who have an interest in therapy work to follow in their footsteps.  We wish them both continued success – we hear that Bullet is also training in obedience, rally and agility so he can qualify for a Register of Merit (ROM).  He truly is the definition of the total Doberman!  Thank you Irene for bringing his natural qualities to perfection!



Michelle Santana


Tammy Kaplan

Public Education


[1] Bullet is by BISS AKC/MBIS UKC GRCH / Intl Ch Talladega’s American Thunder RN OA OAJ NF NJP CL-3 CGC VCX ROM, “Tyson” and ADAMAS I.R.O.C. CD RE OA OAJ NAP NJP NF NFP, “Taylor”.  Litter bred by Elizabeth Barrett, ADAMAS Dobermans and Frances Hart (see pedigree below)