Sky is a little 7 year old Spaniel with a heart the size of Texas. He has motivated more patients to participate in Occupational and Physical Therapy than we can count.
They call us in for Animal Assisted Therapy when the patient is discouraged, in pain, and/or afraid. Sky helps them overcome their discouragement, helps reduce their pain and accompanies them in their struggle; to relearn to walk, learn how to use a wheelchair, relearn how to use their arm.
Working with Sky helps them forget their troubles and pain. Their movements become more natural. They show up enthusiastic for their next session, when they used to refuse to go to therapy.
He does this with patience, enthusiasm and  affection. Despite the fact he has the painful condition hip dysplasia on top of the very painful condition Syringomyelia. I always give him the choice to work or not work and he never turns down the opportunity to help patients. He takes his little breaks when his back legs get weak, but he's a champ, he's been a hero to so many.
Write to us:

If you have a story about how your dog or pet has touched your life and helped you therapeutically, the Top Dog Team would love to hear from you.  Please share your story with us by e-mailing it to Angie on  angie@therapytopdogs.co.za
The Healing Power of Dogs: Canines bring comfort to Newtown survivors and others in crisis

Please  click here to view this article on National Geographic's website
My experiences...

I’ve often read on the internet, or have been sent details of the difference Therapy Dogs have made in peoples lives. So I thought I would share some of my own experiences, although we often aren’t aware of the benefits people experience when our dogs visit them.

Sometimes we’re told by staff or family members, other times people post on our face book page, or maybe we bump into them later when they’re out and about - especially in the case of hospital patients.

We do what we do because we love our dogs and couldn’t imagine life without them, so we enjoy sharing them with people who have been parted from their animals due to frailty, illness or circumstance.

Here are just a few of my own experiences,

In the early days Winston and I were visiting an Alzheimer’s Facility. We walked into a room; where there was a patient was restrained in bed for his own safety. As we walked in he said “ooooh dogs”. We didn’t think anything of this until a member of staff, who just happened to be putting something into a cupboard at the time, said - “that’s amazing” - of course we didn’t know what she meant, until she went on to tell us, they were the first the words the patient had uttered in over 6 months.

Maybe only a small break through, but it’s something we’ve noticed time and time again, that the dogs somehow connect with dementia patients in a way we can’t. Sometimes it’s just a glimmer of recognition in their eye, or a smile on their face, or a hand reaching out to touch the dog. Other times it goes much further…..

….On another occasion I wasn’t personally involved, but other members of our team were - we were visiting a frail care facility, and in the lounge they met a man in a wheelchair. He told them he’d broken his leg and was only there until his leg healed, and he was able to return home. He went on to tell them about a poodle he used to have, and all the tricks he’d taught her. After a while the team visiting him moved on to visit other residents. On their way back up the corridor they met a lady who asked if they had visited her husband as he loved dogs. She pointed him out to our handlers, so they told her of the conversation they’d had with him. Her jaw dropped open, and then when she could speak again she confirmed they indeed had owned a poodle, and everything her husband had told them was true, BUT, her husband was suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease and he hadn’t been able to hold a conversation for months……

Another experience I had in my early days of working, but I still find gives me goose bumps - We were visiting terminally ill patients, and as we usually do we split into small groups, and each group visit different patients, but there was one particular man who requested all the dogs visit him, a request we were happy to grant.

On our next visit the sister asked us if we remembered that particular patient, so of course we said we did. She then said “you made his last day on earth a happy one” she said he’d died that night, but all day he’d been telling everyone about his visit from the dogs, and how happy they had made him……

We’ve had many reports from patients in hospital telling us what a difference the dogs made to them, taking their mind off their fears or their pain for a while, and how the dynamics of the day was changed by the sight, sound or touch of the dogs.

For those of us who love dogs, and share our lives with them, we cannot imagine a life without them, but there are many children, and adults alike, who don’t know that love because they are terrified of even going near a dog.

I was giving a talk to a ladies group one day, and a lady in the audience said her 7 year old granddaughter was terrified of dogs, and could I help? We often find this with children in the schools we visit with our pet education programme, and so far we’ve had 100% success with allaying those fears, but one on one Animal Assisted Therapy wasn’t something I had ever attempted. I said I was willing to try, but obviously with no guarantees!!!

I went to ‘Suzie’s’ house and took Thandi in her travel crate. I said she had to stay in there until Suzie said it was ok for her to come out. I had taken our scrap-book with me so I was showing Suzie pictures of Thandi working, and telling her all about what Therapy Dogs do, and how they are chosen because they are friendly and would never hurt anyone. After a while Suzie said I could open the top of Thandi’s crate, so of course she popped her head out. Thandi will ‘talk’ on command so I got her to bark and I told Suzie that Thandi was telling her not to be frightened as she wouldn’t hurt her.

Suzie had seen pictures of the reading programme and children reading to the dogs, and said could she show Thandi one of her books? She was showing Thandi the pictures and then asked if she could now come out of the crate, but stay on her lead. Once Suzie was comfortable with Thandi I suggested we take her for a walk. I held one lead and Suzie held another. We walked all round the complex and had to go say ‘Hi’ to all Suzie’s friends. When it was time to go I asked if she would like Thandi to visit again and she said yes, but could Miya come too [she’d seen pictures of Thandi’s sister Miya in the scrap book] So next visit another handler came with me and we took both dogs.

Suzie was a little late coming home but she soon arrived and in the car with her was her friend Lucy. They both got out of the car and came running over to both dogs and stroked and cuddled them - Lucy’s mom got out of the car and was shocked to see  Lucy, who she said was also frightened of dogs, and had even been to see a psychologist without success. The only difference was what Suzie had told her about Thandi and Miya. That was enough to make the difference. 

I contacted Suzie’s mom a little while later to see how she was doing. They now have their own dog, and Suzie is happy with dogs of family and friends they visit. They’d previously have had to be fastened away. 

These are just a few of my experiences, and give examples of why I do what I do, and how so much satisfaction I get from seeing so many faces light up with a smile when they see my dog. I am just so thankful that I can share my life with my dogs, and I will continue to share them with others when-ever I can.

Some people say they couldn’t do this as they would get too upset to see people sick, frail or homeless, but as I tell them - “you can’t change their situation, but you can brighten their day”

Written by Angie Thornton - President of TOP Dogs
Our October visit to the Linmed Hospital:
This girl - Erin - just arrived at the Linmed, totally traumatised from being involved in a high-jacking. She was sobbing, but after spending time with Frank and Georgie (pictured) and Danny Boy this was the result. Later Zack and Gaia, went to see her, to keep her spirits up.
Therapy Dogs are perfectly 'normal' when they aren't working - left is a picture of Cloud enjoying the mud which just proves this!
I have always been a dog lover, and in April 2015 I started looking for a furchild again. I found the Maltese SA rescue page and there saw the future love of my life - GREMLIN!
We went to meet her on a Friday evening and the lady basically told us that Gremlin does not get along with her Yorkies and therefore she needed to lock her in a cage 24/7. Gremlin (according to her) was dangerous and aggressive, and if we did not take her she was going to be put to sleep.

There was no way I was leaving Gremlin there. So she came home with us, where for the first time she met chickens, geese and horses.  She did not even try to chase them. She greeted them as if she had known them all her life.

We took ‘Grems’ to Mutters Day in May, and who did we bump into there? Her previous owner, who told me I was crazy to bring her to the event as she is a crazy dog. Anyway Grems was just fine. She did not even look at the other dogs (except keeping an occasional eye on the Yorkies that she had learned to hate so much!)

Then I decided I would love to pursue Therapy work with her - maybe it could in some way help her as well. So we found TOP Dogs and signed up for next JHB North Evaluation in Sandton.
When we got to the Evaluation, Grems parked off on my lap and watched everything rather sceptically. She snapped a little at a big Golden Retriever ... and I thought my dream of doing therapy work with her was gone.

BUT - she soon settled in the unfamiliar, dog-filled environment. She regained her confidence and did everything I asked of her - and we passed!

Now came time for our Probationary visits. I prepared by taking Grems EVERYWHERE with me to get her confidently used to new people, different places, and whatever ordinary life threw at us. All this work certainly paid off! At our first Probation visit, Gremlin was still a little nervous but to my delight she found a friend in Jinx, Conor's beautiful Australian Shepherd and that was Grems set up to succeed.

From there she has just grown happier, friendlier, and more sociable. She can't wait for her visits. From the reports on her Probationer schedule, she has got the nickname "friendly and steady". It is so beautiful to see how Therapy work not only helped her grow in herself, but how much joy it brings to our clients when she sits on her hind legs and asks for treats from total strangers at our visits.

Gremlin qualified as a TOP Dog Therapy dog on 11 November 2015 and is doing her Canine Good Citizen test on 5 December 2015.

Thank you TOP Dogs for bringing out the best in Grems and helping her be the best Therapy Dog she can be!

Stephanie Stoltz le Roux & Gremlin
The picture right is of Meabh (CH Swordstone Juno of Mukonry) on her very last therapy visit for Top Dogs in October last year.
The little boy in the picture was severely injured in a car accident. At the beginning of the visit he had no movement in his arms and legs and they were pulled up tightly in spasm. My Meabh, on her own initiative, lowered herself next to the therapist and cuddled around and put her head in the boys lap. The boy then relaxed his arms and legs and for the first time since the accident, they were spasm free.
Meabh died a few weeks later playing in a park.
Today we went to the same rehab centre and the little boy is now controlling the movement of his arms, raises his head, is responsive to commands from family and therapists and is a 1000% better than when we last saw him.
But all of that, still does not cover the immensity of this for me.
My son Jarryd landed up in a similar physical state in 1993 after contracting Meningitis at 8 months old. I was told by the medical staff, not to talk to him, nor touch him, as any physical contact or verbal stimulation started all the machines around him screaming alarms off. He died 4 days later. I prayed so much for healing and it didn’t happen.
Today I have seen that Madcap Mayhem Meabh was used in the initial healing of this boy. He has so far to go. It will be a long road for him, but he has started down the road.
Today as a handler, my heart is breaking for the loss of my beloved Meabh, breaking with pride for knowing how she finished her race, and breaking afresh for the loss of Jarryd. My head questions God on healing, and children dying, my heart knows and accepts that these issues I have put on a list of things I will discuss with God when I get to Heaven.
For anyone who thinks that Therapy Dogs are just a dog walk in a hospital, old age home, or somewhere to relieve boredom, think again. We are touched each and every time we go to a meeting, the foundations of our faiths, whatever they be, are strengthened, tested and tried. We leave parts of ourselves at each visit, we grow at each visit, we are restored, rejuvenated and revived, and pushed to new depths of experience as we allow ourselves to see others in need and offer compassion and care, even if it is only for a short time.
- Clare Ernstzen (February 2016)
Dogs used to help children testify in court

Johannesburg, 14 May 2017 - Trained dogs are helping to prepare abused children to testify in court.The Teddy Bear Foundation is pioneering the country's first canine-assisted therapy.
Click here to view the video

Honde help kinders in hof
** Video soundtrack is in English **
Dr Shaheda Omar, the Clinical Director at the Teddy Bear Clinic, explains the role of Therapy Dogs in the groudbreaking work TOP Dogs are undertaking with the TBC Court Preparation programme. Video lasts 3 mins 13 sec. Link: https://youtu.be/ll2rj0PWB8Q
When a sudden family medical emergency turned into an almost five month exercise of visiting a high care hospital unit, intensive care and finally a physical rehabilitation facility, it was during these daily visits that I began thinking of what could be done to aid recovery and the benefits of therapy animals. Being an animal lover, I’ve been open to the idea of using various animals for therapeutic purposes. I thought to myself how a handful of fur could possibly aid in patients rehabilitation and recovery time. I believe a home always needs a furry companion.
My now qualified therapy dog, Tango, has always had a gentle, loving and empathetic side to her rather bouncy, boisterous side. Often people have commented that her eyes look into the soul and feel your emotions. Tango and I have a very strong bond, and I felt that somehow we could make a difference as a team. Coupled with these qualities, and my ponderings about therapy animals, I decided to just do it.
After much research, I discovered TOP Dogs. The ethics portrayed and information available on the site made it an easy decision for me to submit our application.
The way the programme is structured for probationary dogs and their handlers really enabled me to figure out quickly what kinds of visits suited Tango, as well as where I’d also be comfortable, as some scenarios can evoke the BIG emotions.
Tango enjoys frail care visits, where she is only too happy to just sit and be stroked…she’s a big love bug like that. Watching the dogs faces light up along with that of the client when they come into contact with each other is indescribable. Often there is little to no verbal communication with the clients on these visits, but the touch aspect says it all.
Seeing Tango with children who are going through a really tough time is amazing. At home, she likes children, but would rather be by my side. However, when she is working, it’s all about the kids. Her attention is all for them, whether it’s going for a walk or just sitting quietly and cuddling, nothing else matters to her than making them happy . The cherry on top with these visits is seeing children who are initially anxious or scared of the dogs warm up to them and eventually are hugging them goodbye at the end of the visit. This just shows the magic these dogs possess.
My aha moment, the moment I knew this was a good decision, came when she had her first visit to the paediatric ward at a physical rehabilitation facility. I was incredibly nervous, even though I tried to hide it, but Tango took it in her stride. After calming me down, she focussed on the tiny little humans who just needed some furry love. It was a goose bump moment for me to watch her sniff at a little baby, who was very ill, lick her toes and then lie down next to her so that they were eye height with each other. The baby became calm and just melted into bliss as her mother leant her against Tango to feel her fur and hear her heart beat. All the while, my special pup just crossed her paws and enjoyed the cuddles.
It’s not only therapeutic for the clients we visit, or as studies have shown, for the dogs. Being a therapy dog handler has had a very cathartic effect on me. Watching my best four legged friend make someone’s day, makes my day too. Being able to give back in such a unique and special way is very rewarding, not only seeing the difference, but working with likeminded individuals and their amazing dogs...a very special family.
- Vanessa Garland
JD Selections endorses Top Dogs
Sue Cunningham, General Manager, JD Selections
Dear Editor,
I recently had the good fortune to witness Top Dogs in action in the Frail Care Unit at Village Walk Retirement Village run by JD Selections. Georgie and Miya, two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels visited the delighted residents with their human handlers, Angie Thornton and Jean Strydom. Angie is a founder member and President. The organisation started on the East Rand 10 years ago and has subsequently spread to Pretoria, Johannesburg North, West Rand and Johannesburg South. They are a registered NPO and PBO totally run by volunteers.
Both dogs belong to Angie who has 2 other dogs at home. She related the story of how Georgie was found at 2 years old in a backyard of a breeder with no kennel and little human interaction but within 5 months of being rehomed became this affectionate, relaxed therapy dog. Angie had Miya from a puppy where she was introduced into the programme at 12 weeks old, removed for those “teenage” years and reintroduced once animal behaviourist Louise Thompson evaluated her for temperament and suitability. Angie described her as, “having gone through the love queue twice and missing the brain queue altogether,” which I saw with all her loving kisses.
Watching the residents faces and obvious pleasure reminds us that the unconditional love that dogs have for us humans cannot be under estimated. Research has shown that therapy animals have ben proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress, easing loneliness and depression by increasing those “feel good’ hormones. People that don’t always talk or move much, often will chat and stroke the animals as I have witnessed with people with dementia. They are particularly helpful with traumatised children and stroke victims. Angie takes her dogs to the Teddy Bear Clinic and works with various individuals with Animal Assisted Therapy alongside a Professional. This includes visiting schools to improve learners reading and concentration skills by reading to the dogs in a calm, non-judgemental environment.
I want to commend her and her team for bringing simple joy and pleasure to those who can no longer care for animals themselves but can reminisce about their own beloved pets and enjoy the love!
For more information Angie can be contacted  by email: info@therapytopdogs.co.za and website: www.therapytopdogs.co.za. Please like their Facebook page and show your support through the MySchool My Village My Planet card programme.
Please find attached a few photos of the visit. The first photo is my personal favourite, the 2 residents, Nan Du Preez and Shiela Visser with Miya. The second one is of the same 2 residents with Angie Thornton standing behind the chairs. The third group photo shows Jean Strydom with Georgie on Sienie Apelgryn lap with resident Mr.Marinus Philling in the chair and the CEO of JD Selections, Eugene Jordaan in between the 2 residents.
For any further information please feel free to contact me on 082 693 1508.
Many thanks,
TOP Dogs Therapy Dogs Support Teddy Bear Foundation’s Abused Children

The Teddy Bear Foundation works with abused children from three to 18 years old.
The Foundation has many programmes that support these children in different ways, depending on their needs.
One of those programmes is Court Preparation, where children get ready to testify in court against their alleged abuser.

One Saturday early in 2015, six therapy dogs and their handlers sat in a bare hall, waiting to meet the children for the first time. The atmosphere was quiet and the sense of hurt and pain seemed to come from the very walls. The children were working in small groups elsewhere, learning about Court procedures and about telling their truths. We heard them moving into the mock Courtroom, to experience the sense of place and to learn who-sits-where.

Then in quiet ones and twos the children came through into the hall where we sat. Forty, fifty children, far too silent for a sunny Saturday morning. Then, tentatively, they started to approach; to touch, to stroke the clean fur and to gaze into the kind dog eyes. They started - slowly - to make friends with creatures who didn’t judge, didn’t control and didn’t threaten. They began the first steps on the path back to being able to trust.

And as they did this, the sound changed. We heard shouts as they called to each other to come see, they laughed, they asked questions, they argued over who would brush the spaniel’s ears. It got loud. It got very loud. They shouted over the noise to ask if they could walk a dog, and off we went down the corridors, with an extra lead in the child’s hand and a sparkle in their eyes.

Spending time interacting with a friendly dog lowers the major stress hormones. It simultaneously increases the feel-good hormones that make you want to hug and be hugged, that make you want to put energy into achieving something, that just make you feel plain old happiness. The brave children of the Court Preparation programme forgot their bad memories for a while that morning and deafened us with their approval. We left with our ears ringing and our eyes a little wet. The real stars of the morning just wagged their tails, climbed into the cars and accepted the treats they had so richly earned.

In the two years since we began this work, we have developed new ways of supporting and enhancing the Court Preparation work. Dogs now also work in the Courtroom, dressed as Court Officials. Our next phase, for mid-2018, is to take the costumed dogs into the small workgroups to help the children learn about the individual officials - the Magistrate, the Court Orderly and the others. The programme has been extended from Johannesburg out to Krugersdorp, and working with the visionary folk at the Teddy Bear Foundation, we are planning much, much more.

Dr Conor Hughes, Vice-President TOP Dogs Therapy Dogs
Email info@therapytopdogs.co.za to find out how you can get involved.