Team Plum

Liz Aslakson training Plum

Liz Aslakson, socializing and training Plum, Strongsville Ohio Fire Department.

I am proud to announce my role involving dogs and helping others: Therapy Dog Handler, aka, Team Plum. This past fall, the pup I was raising, Plum, decided on a “change of career” while in professional training, aka, puppy college.

Though I’ve loved all my pets, I haven’t experienced the unique bond I’ve had with Plum since childhood and my family’s black female German Shepherd, Kapa (derived from the Slovak word, Kvapka, meaning a drop). Kapa was a constant companion to me on long walks, keeping me and my sisters safe on our adventures and tumultuous adolescence. As a result, when Canine Companions called, asking if I wanted to adopt Plum, there was no doubt I wanted to venture into a new area of service with this extra special canine reminding me of Kapa.

So, this past winter, Plum and I worked on achieving our certification as Therapy Dog Team through Canine Companions.

Like most dog owners, I’ve spent a lifetime witnessing the positive impact dogs have on their human friends. At the same time, my academic background in psychology has given me an even deeper understanding of real-world anecdotes.

For example, science reveals the simple act of petting a dog releases the chemicals serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, helping elevate moods while reducing stress, anxiety, loneliness, and depression. These hormones also stimulate cognitive functions in all of us, but is especially helpful for individuals suffering from conditions such as head trauma and Alzheimer’s.

Physically, therapy dogs can also reduce blood pressure, slow breathing, improve cardiovascular health, reduce the need for medication, but still diminishing pain, and promoting healing.

 Research demonstrates children with autism who engage with therapy dogs have a greater use of language and social interaction as well. In fact, all children benefit from the presence of dogs when learning, hence the growing popularity of reading programs in which children read to dogs.

In addition, within military communities, medical experts have employed the use of therapy dogs on and off the battle fields, including veterans dealing with the aftermath of combat and PTSD.

And though some may assume the use of therapy dogs is a new trend, history reveals we are not the first to recognize the healing power of this relationship which has developed since the first humans domesticated dogs tens of thousands of years ago.

The impact therapy dogs have on the biological, psychological, and social health of others is therefore long recognized by researchers and the scientific community.

This said, as I’ve transitioned to the civilian world after my husband was on active duty for more than 30 years, my experiences as a puppy raiser and handler continue to coincide with the research and what everyday dog owners already know.

Though me and my husband are experts at change, choosing to have dogs in our home to greet us every morning and snuggle with at night… getting out of the house rain, sleet, snow, or sun, is just an extra boost, physically and mentally.

Furthermore, comparable to my role as military spouse, being involved with future service dog puppies has given me the opportunity to meet people from diverse backgrounds that share a common goal of helping others through the mutual love and admiration of these special canines.

There is an instant connection and support group with many of the people involved with raising and training special dogs. Like the family readiness groups of the Army… they get it.

Lastly, I feel honored to continue contributing to causes close to my heart.

Plum and I are excited to join therapy dog teams working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Geauga County located in Northeast Ohio, participating at library reading programs, as well as supporting first responders through their K-9 Frontline Wellness program. In addition, we will work with the American Red Cross Service, supporting veterans through the Service to Armed Forces Animal Visitation program, bringing my experiences as a military spouse, full circle.

Team Plum

Puppy raising has sent me on quite a path in my new phase of life and I’m thrilled to continue the journey as Team Plum.




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