A new kind of trick

Local therapy dogs visit the Brooks Library to work at Paws and Relax


Beau Kelderhouse, Scene Reporter

The end of each quarter seems to be stressful for most students. With piled on homework assignments, projects and tests, add finals to the mix and that can push some to the breaking point.
The Brooks Library aims to help students relax and enjoy finals week with Paws and Relax. This event is an opportunity to get to know some of the service and therapy dogs who are a part of the Ellensburg community.
Maureen Rust, assistant professor of library services, organized the event. The first step for her was to find therapy dogs in Ellensburg.It wasn’t easy to find exclusively certified therapy dogs, since the dogs must have liability insurance.
“It gets around the liability issue, because it shows a certain level of behavior that they have passed,” Rust said.
After doing Paws and Relax for the first time over a year ago, it has been one of the more popular events for the library.
Two dogs in particular had the opportunity to visit the Brooks Library to help students feel a little more comfortable and also to inform the participants about what each dog does specifically as a service or therapy dog.
One of the dogs is Sullivan a four-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever. He is a service dog for Mark Kowalski, who has recently moved from Vancouver. Sullivan was raised for Canine Companions for Independence beginning when he was eight weeks old. When he was 18 months, he returned for more advanced training.
“That didn’t work for him,” Kowalski said. “He was returned to me after two months for me to adopt.”
About a year later Kowalski started to use him as his service dog. The process of certifying Sullivan by the federal government was quite easy.
The government officials interviewing Kowalski asked two questions: Is that a service dog? And what service does the dog perform for you? Kowalski said the American Canine Association also requires that the animal be trained specifically for the individual and their needs. Although any location that a therapy dog is used in will have its own certification requirements, Sullivan has his through Pet Partners in Bellevue, so he can work anywhere.
“He passed his testing in Vancouver [Washington] through an affiliated community group, Columbia River Pet Partners, and is certified to work in the most complex of environments,” Kowalski said.
Sullivan has not only worked in Paws and Relax, but also in multiple environments from hospitals and schools to memory care in nursing homes.
Sullivan and Kowalski have been working together as a team for some time. Kowalski developed bad balance problems a few years ago, as well as severe vertigo.
“I am at risk for falling if I need to bend over to pick up something,” Kowalski said. “So, he will pick up stuff which I drop.”
Another dog much like Sullivan is Gunther, a Lab-German Shepherd mix. Gunther is a therapy dog that was adopted by Stacy Taylor about three years ago. Right from the start, Taylor thought Gunther had the right temperament for being a service dog.
“He loves people, adores attention, and is very mellow,” Taylor said.
Taylor thought about getting him certified pretty early on.
Then when she moved to Ellensburg and started working at CWU, she wanted to start the program here at the Brooks Library, so she took training courses in Pullman to help out.
“Maureen contacted a trainer from Pullman who was willing to travel to Ellensburg to provide the training, but wanted a certain number of people to participate,” Taylor said.
To become a team, Gunther’s training was done through Pet Partners in Pullman, as was Taylor’s humans-only training.
“During the training, we learned about recognizing our dog’s stress signals, advocating for our dogs, how to approach new people and new situations, and making sure our dogs were safe and happy,” Taylor said.
Now that Gunther and Taylor are a certified team, they can visit hospitals, nursing homes and events like Paws and Relax, which is Gunther’s favorite thing.
Gunther goes to all of the Paws and Relax events and is becoming a bit of a ‘library celebrity.’
“He gets so excited to come here and visit with the students,” Taylor said. “He’s perfectly content to lie quietly while groups gather around to rub his belly.”