Alyssa Schafer and Maddy at MossRehab in Elkins Park.
Maria Soto Rodriguez pets Maddy.
Maddy looks over her shoulder.
Doris Palumbo pets Maddy.
Dorothy Price and Maddy shake hands.
Maddy gets a belly rub from MossRehab physical therapy staff.
Helen Kane has a smile for Maddy.
Maddy rests after a job well done.

Therapy Dogs Spread the Love at MossRehab

By on 03/07/2019

If one dog is good, then lots of dogs must be better, right?

Patients at MossRehab are happily testing out that theory thanks to a new partnership with Comfort Caring Canines. Volunteers from the nonprofit organization have been bringing their therapy dogs to the campus in Elkins Park since December.

MossRehab already had its resident canine, Pender, a Labrador and golden retriever mix who was trained as a facility dog through Canine Companions for Independence. His training is used to encourage and motivate patients in therapy sessions, help them work on their goals to improve function, and provide some extra fun! But Pender can’t be everywhere.

So Liz Decina, a MossRehab recreation therapist who is Pender’s partner, got excited in December when she met a therapy-dog team from Comfort Caring Canines, a local nonprofit organization. “We are always looking for cost-effective ways to better serve more of our patients’ needs in a variety of fun and emotionally fulfilling ways,” she says.

Decina and Alicia Harantschuk, president of Comfort Caring Canines, developed the Moss Paws for Progress program at MossRehab, which allows the trained owner-dog teams to visit patients on the rehab floors at hours that work with their schedules.

They often visit on evenings and weekends. “I would say most weeks we get at least one visit,” Decina says. Decina and Harantschuk are eager to get additional teams up and running soon.

On a recent day, Alyssa Schafer and Maddy, her 8-year-old, 25-pound mixed-breed rescue dog, took a tour of the third-floor rehab unit, earning smiles everywhere. They would stay just a few minutes in each room where a patient wanted a visit, but it was enough.

“Want to give me a kiss?” asked Helen Kane. “I don’t get many kisses.” Maddy obliged.

Others just wanted to accept the invitation Maddy had displayed on her vest: “Therapy Dog. Pet Me.”

Unlike Pender and other facility dogs, who are expertly trained to do specific tasks, the therapy dogs who visit MossRehab have a different job. They are there to cuddle, comfort and help patients keep a positive outlook. Their purpose is love alone.

Schafer, who is also a dog trainer, says she and Maddy became certified with Comfort Caring Canines a year ago. She was excited when the Moss Paws for Progress program started close to her home.

According to Harantschuk, Comfort Caring Canines dogs must be at least a year old and not aggressive. They must complete a standard obedience course or have a Canine Good Citizen title from the American Kennel Club. They also need a current license and vaccinations.

Handlers must be at least 18 and provide criminal and child abuse background checks. They also go through a Comfort Caring Canines orientation.

“For Pender and other facility dogs, the process is much more rigorous,” Decina says.

But the patients visiting with Maddy recently weren’t looking at her credentials. They were happy just to hang out with her.

For more information or to get involved with Moss Paws for Progress, contact Liz Decina,

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