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Local Therapy Dog Team Provides Comfort At Schools, Organizations

John Livingston is pictured with Clifford, his 3-year-old golden retriever AKC therapy dog. Submitted photos

John Livingston of Lakewood and his 3-year-old golden retriever Clifford began volunteering as a therapy dog team about a year and a half ago with an organization out of Erie, Pa.

“I’ve had Clifford since he was a puppy,” Livingston said. “He’s always had the right demeanor, and I always thought he could be a good therapy dog. He’s very laid back and accommodating to make people feel good. He’s a fantastic dog.”

Livingston said therapy dogs cannot be tested to see if they would be good fits until they reach 2 years old. When Clifford reached the proper age, Livingston took him to Erie to be certified with Therapy Dogs United.

As a team, Livingston and Clifford have spent time at Lincoln and Southwestern elementary schools along with Tanglewood Manor, LSS Physical Therapy unit, doctor’s offices, funeral homes and various other places if asked.

On Nov. 11, Therapy Dogs United held its annual fundraiser in Erie, and Clifford was honored as one of 12 dogs picked to be featured in the “Top Dog” National 2023 calendar, which will be distributed across the country. Clifford was selected to be the cover dog and “Mr July.”

Clifford is pictured during a ride on the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry.

“They select dogs from all over the U.S.,” Livingston said. “Massachusetts, Florida, Arizona, and I had to submit a recommendation or nomination for Clifford to be included and mention all of the things we’ve done and he was selected.”

Livingston himself was also picked as the 2022 National Volunteer of the Year.

“It’s very unexpected,” Livingston said. “I’m extremely proud. The joy that I get from going to visit the schools and Tanglewood, and sometimes we visit a grief counseling class, the reaction from people can’t be described. There is an immediate smile on people’s faces. I find it so enjoyable.”

For Livingston, volunteering in this way is personal as he uses the therapy dog program to help himself as well, after his wife passed away a year ago in September.

“It helps me as much as anyone else,” Livingston said.

Mostly, Livingston said being a therapy dog team is something that is needed and important, which is why he and Clifford do what they do.

“There has been research done as to the benefits of it,” Livingston said. “I find it very enjoyable, and he loves it. People can’t wait for us to come back. When we go to the schools and the kids will see him in the hallway we will often hear, ‘Clifford is here today. Yay Clifford is here today.’ The kids in the rooms will be smiling and excited. The reactions we get are so enjoyable and can’t be described. It’s so enjoyable to know we are helping.”

Additionally, Livingston said visits to the school from him and Clifford can help any kid who is having a bad day have a good day.

“Fifteen minutes with Clifford and their attitude changes,” he said. “There was one little girl who was having a bad day, and she was crying and 15 minutes spent with Clifford there was a complete 180-degree turn around.”

More than anything, Livingston encourages people who think their dog could be the right fit to go to Erie to get tested.

“It’s important for people to come into contact with therapy dogs when they have problems,” Livingston said. “I wish more people who could have possible therapy dogs would come forward and get tested with their dogs. There is always an ask or a need. There is always an opportunity for someone to take on what is a very worthwhile act.”

Livingston thanked Century 21, Jamestown Teachers Federal Credit Union, Jamestown Kitchen and Bath, Lakeshore Saving, Robo Enterprises, and Southern Chautauqua Federal Credit Union for being sponsors of the Therapy Dogs United event in Erie. He also thanked Lisa Schmidtfrerick Miller for taking the pictures of Clifford for the calendar.

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