My Heart Belongs to Bryar

As I sit down to write this, I’ve come to realize that I have been blessed by my German Shepherd Dogs over the past 36 years, the last 5 have all been therapy dogs.

I would now like to tell you about the one that changed my life…

Smokey’s Bryar of Thornbird, CD, RN, CGC, THD,* call name “Bryar.”  Born May 8, 2000, and came into my life 7 weeks later.  It was at a crossroads of a career change and a life dealing with a parent with Alzheimer’s.  A quiet, laid-back puppy that her breeder, Beth, worked diligently with, while she was a newborn.

Bryar was different than any other puppy I ever had.  She needed no training collar, she did nothing quickly, and when it came to a crate she would have none of it.  I always said, “She did more damage in the crate than out.”

We worked hard, both she and I, as a novice team.  We were able to get her two obedience titles of CD and RN, but she had had enough of the obedience thing.  Then we found our calling as a “Therapy Dog Team.”  She received the Therapy Dog certification on her 1st birthday, May 8, 2001, and the rest is history, as they say.  I had been doing therapy dog work with two other Shepherds since 1994 and realized how important my dogs were becoming in other people’s lives, in nursing homes, in hospitals and with children.  Bryar started just like her sisters – a little at a time, getting to know the routine of visiting.  We also did special events during that summer.  Then, as you can imagine, all our lives were about to be changed forever.

September 11, 2001.  One of the darkest days in all of history.  Along with many of our closest friends, Bryar and I were called upon as a therapy dog team.  We thought we were being called to help heal the survivors, when in reality we helped heal the victims’ families and first responders.  We arrived in vans, some personal and some donated, everyone wanting to help.  Unfortunately, the first day we arrived, we were turned away due to all the chaos.

We were called upon again, on October 27, 2001, to meet at the family center, which was in Manhattan, close to Ground Zero.  This facility was a dock that was used for cruise ships leaving New York City, and it had been turned into the family center.  The families arrived to try to reconcile the fate of their loved ones and learn how to move on.

As we arrived, our cars were searched and our ID had to be just right.  I will say all of the police and officials were thankful and kind to us.  We were one nation…. that had been attacked!

* AKC Titles: CD-Companion Dog, RN-Rally Novice, CGC-Canine Good Citizen, THD-Therapy Dog.

I will never forget the first time I arrived at the family center, with all my ID and Bryar’s credentials in hand.  As we entered the building, the Star Spangled Banner was being played and a hearse was carrying urns with ash from the towers, for the families.  A lone bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace” ushered the hearse with two therapy dogs in the lead, guiding them into the family center.  We stopped for a moment to take stock in the surroundings and it was abundantly clear: WE HAD A JOB TO DO.

Over the next 3-4 hours, Bryar and I walked up and down the aisles, trying to comfort as many people as we could.  The families were waiting in lines and more lines.  Near the end of our first shift, Bryar, at a little over a year, was drained and exhausted.  I stopped in the middle of the Social Security line near two small children.  They started to pet her and within a minute she was fast asleep.  As the line moved slowly, the people leaned down to pet her.  She didn’t stir, and for a brief second I saw the smiles that she was bringing to these lost souls.  One second of relief.

We were talking with the families, and I remember how kind everyone was.  From a family member wanting to hold Bryar’s leash while I used the ladies room, to the exceptional people who were serving with the Red Cross, there was no lack of people wanting to help.  There had been a full service cafeteria erected with anything and everything you could imagine – hot and cold meals, snacks of every shape and size, and drinks from any company you can imagine.  After our shift, we stopped to get a drink and the Red Cross ushered us in, and I remember saying, “But the dogs, are they allowed?”   “They are volunteers too, and they are more than welcome,” was the response I got.  We were served by the Red Cross and we got water for the dogs.  I also remember feeling that we shouldn’t be in here, this was for the families.  A Red Cross volunteer said, “You’re helping both the families and us, more than you know. You deserve to be here.”

The people we met remained nameless. We were not permitted to ask about their circumstances, but sometimes, as they stroked our dogs, they just seemed to open up.  I remember being able to see some of the tension leave peoples’ bodies as they petted my special girl.

We again returned during the holiday season when the families were invited to try to capture some holiday spirit and further the healing process.  The therapy dogs were there, and so were Bryar and I…. an honor again to serve.

We were allowed at the entrance of the family center to greet the people as they entered.  Behind temporary walls, a site for only the families.  Some of the companies that were in attendance that we could see were: Disney with all the characters (Mickey and Minnie of course were having their picture taken with the families), Mattel, Tonka, and so many more.  As to her true nature, Bryar laid down and people continued to be drawn to her.  She was petted for hours and listened to stories of loved ones lost.  Time had passed since 9/11, and people were healing or trying to come to terms with what had happened.

My Life was changed forever those few months, thanks to this wonderful dog.

We returned home and continued our therapy dog visits, sometimes up to 3 visits a week, bringing our unconditional love to those we could.  MDA Summer Camp, school reading programs, fairs, festivals, parades, hospitals, schools and nursing homes were among the places we visited.

We then fast forward 10 years (where did the time go?), and we’ve been invited to Liberty State Park for a 9/11 Memorial Service on September 11, 2011, for all the dogs who helped during that horrendous time.  These included handlers who had Service Dogs, Search and Rescue Teams, 1st Responders, SPCA, Veterinarians and Therapy Dogs.  Many of the original dogs were no longer with us.  As we lined up for the procession, on our left were 50 flying American flags and in between the flags were members of National Dog Breed Clubs.  On our right, the Statue of Liberty.  Emotions were high.  I had come to realize that there were only about 15 living therapy dogs that had served 10 years before.  Bryar was one of them.  She was still with me, while other owners had lost their companions.  How lucky and honored am I!  A little slower, and slightly gray and older in the face, but she’s still by my side.  We marched with the other surviving therapy dogs and were announced as such.  Bryar and I were the first team to cross under a salute of drawn swords.  People were applauding, crying and mouthing, “Thank You!”   I didn’t feel we had done anything special.  I was just one of the lucky ones that, during that time, was able to help and share my “Oh So Special!” friend, Bryar, with others.  As we sat through the ceremony, true to Bryar’s nature, she again fell asleep.

A true therapy dog, through and through! I am yet one more person she has worked her magic on.

She now reaches her 13th birthday…. a little slower, hard of hearing, and slightly wobbly in the hind end, and still holding the core of my heart in her paw.

Do you think she realizes how she changed my Life?

Mary E. Minnich
June 8, 2013


The Final Chapter

Where does the time go?

As I sit here to write the final chapter, “Bryar” still holds my heart in her
Paw, as a memory. She lost her battle with age 3 days shy of her 15th birthday.

All of my dogs have been special in their own way, and everyone is aware of
that one dog that comes into your life, and holds that special place. BRYAR was mine.

I work in a veterinary office and Bryar shared the journey to work with me
everyday. We both didn’t realize the effect she had on so many people, whether it be the clients throughout the years or the special people we worked with. Some mornings, she struggled near the end, but she always wanted to make the trip to the office. She continued to accompany me until 2 months before she died.

The year without her has shown me just how many lives she touched. A
month or so after her passing a gentleman came into the office, (I didn’t remember his name), he looked over the counter, then looked at me and said “Where’s your friend”, the expression on my face must have told him what had happened. As he looked back at me, a tear shone on his face. I know that very special client’s name Now, again because of her.

Bryar allowed me to accomplish so many things. I’m hard pressed to total
the number of hours we logged doing therapy dog work. We showed in obedience and she loved herding sheep, but both of those events were a little taxing on her, she was as laid back as it gets. She enjoyed the therapy dog time the best.

We had been recognized for our accomplishments for our service during
9/11 many times, most especially by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America, at their 100th Anniversary in October 2014. Because of her, to be honored by the parent club is a once in a life time achievement.

After I wrote,”My Life belongs to Bryar”, I took time off from therapy dog
work to spend time with her. She had given so much, it was time to give back to her. We played in the snow and in summer with the hose, some days I would just sit on a beautiful day and watch her beautiful coat blow in the breeze. Little did I know during that time when I felt the days were limited, she would prove me wrong and we had another two wonderful years together.

The hole in my heart is now being filled by to other very special German
Shepherd Dogs, Devlyn and Keyda. Devlyn is the spitting image of Bryar and is following in her footsteps, they look so much alike that sometimes it’s like Bryar is still keeping watch on us. I know with her help, the hole will be filled by another Special friend. But until that time the memories will last a life time.

Mary E. Minnich
June 12, 2016

“Miley” and her handler, Kathy Appleton, visit the 6th Street Shelter in Allentown, PA. They were featured in the 2016 Summer edition of The Word on Sixth Street.

(Click on image for full size.)

The Service of a Scottish Terrier

by Beth Firulli
Scotts Chatter January 2024

Monty the Therapy Dog is a handsome, Wheaton colored, Scottish Terrier. Yes, you read that correctly – Scottish Terrier. We all know the jokes about being owned by a Scottish Terrier and of their independent and often stubborn personalities. We also appreciate that there is something very special about the relationship between a Scottie and their human. What we do not often consider is a Scottie having that relationship with others outside of their person/family. I think that is what makes Monty extra special. I also think it takes a special owner to be willing to share that love from their Scottie with others who really need it.
I was first introduced to Monty (Afterglow’s Broomcorn’s Uncle BN RI BCAT THD CGC TKN) about a year ago when Lisa and Geiger Lee of Afterglow Kennels shared a Facebook story about Monty as he started his therapy work in the Lehigh Valley, PA area. I did a little cheer at with the announcement that a Scottish Terrier could work as a therapy dog. Given my job, I regularly observe the many Collies, Golden and Labrador Retriever therapy dogs walking through the halls at Riley Hospital for Children, but I have never encountered any terrier let alone a Scottie walking the hallways. Pet therapy has positive effects on both physical and mental health. For the kids (and adults too), having a pet pay attention to them and giving a snuggle or two can have positive effects such as lowering blood pressure, relieving anxiety and the hormones released trigger a response in the brain making them feel happy and more optimistic which is critical as they undergo serious long term hospital visits. Plus, who does not love those snazzy service vests or in Monty’s case a kilt.

In addition to his career as a therapy dog, Monty is very active in the performance sports like Rally and Fast CAT where he can let his hair down. That is Monty’s “me time” where he gets to do fun things for himself. I think that all dog people understand the emotional support and therapy that our dogs provide for us every day. What we may not fully understand is that you cannot just bring your pet into an environment like a hospital and share that experience with people who need it. There is quite a bit of training that both dog and human need to accomplish to become an official therapy dog and that training comes with many responsibilities for the K9/human therapy team.
Last September, I finally met Monty and his Humans, Tracy and Randy Krapf, at the Wooster College Spirit Day event that celebrated Archie the very tall and bipedal Scottish Terrier mascot of the college. While chatting under the big Scottie tent, Tracy’s love of Monty and their shared therapy work came through in our conversations. In the months since, I have found myself wondering about what it would take to make such a serious commitment both in time and emotion, so I reached out to Tracy asking if she would be willing to share her story. She quickly responded to all of my questions. What a story of healing for both herself and others she shared. The email interview goes as follows:

Beth: Do you come from a counseling background or what sparked your desire to train and have a therapy dog?

Tracy and Randy meet Monty

Tracy: I do not come from a counseling background. Your question is complicated to answer and I can offer more in depth if you would like but the short story is… I had a Westie with a wonderful personality. The boarding kennel offered a training course on therapy dogs and I took the Westie to the class as I wanted to share his personality with everyone. In my own journey, I have a daughter that has struggled with mental health issues since she was in her early teens. As she got older, we ran into more and more trouble with her including, suicidal ideation, reckless behaviors and drug and alcohol abuse. With all the obligations I had because of my daughter’s mental health issues, I never had the Westie tested for the therapy dog certification, but he completed the classes. My daughter eventually went into a rehab facility and the parent therapy we received was so liberating. We learned to take care of ourselves and set healthy boundaries. We learned to follow our own paths and passions. I’ve loved Scottie’s since I was a child. We got Monty in December of 2021 as part of my healing. I knew I wanted to try training for therapy dog again, but it was too early to tell if Monty’s personality was a fit. I joined a local dog training club because the kennel where I originally trained, no longer offered therapy dog training, so I decided to try on my own. The training club though only offered AKC STAR Puppy classes, obedience, and rally classes. Monty and I loved the classes so much, I took as many as I could with many different trainers.

Beth: Monty is not your first or only dog. Is Monty the only dog that you have done therapy work with? What about his personality has made him so successful as a therapy dog?

Tracy: As I said, Monty was not my first dog to train as therapy dog. My Westie, Louie, was one of the best dogs I ever had the pleasure of working with. I got Monty when Louie was 11 years old. Louie was a vital part of Monty’s training; he was the best doggie mentor to Monty and they were inseparable. Louie passed in 2022, unfortunately, but I still see him in Monty’s mannerisms. Monty, like Louie, is a gentleman. He has a fun personality that just makes you smile. Monty is very calm, even as a puppy he was calm and confident. I knew very early in our training he would be a great therapy dog and he definitely has exceeded my expectations with it! Because of his calmness, the hospital we volunteer at has specifically requested Monty on several occasions to visit patients.

Beth: Can you give us an idea of the training that goes into getting therapy dog certifications? I am assuming that there are different levels and certifications. Can you explain some of the differences?

Tracy: For training, I started with an AKC STAR Puppy class. It teaches puppies basics like sit, stay, and down. The course was a one-hour session over 7 weeks with lots of homework training to do on our own. After that, we continued with obedience classes that were geared towards showing but the basic lessons can be applied in everyday applications. It teaches dogs to watch their owner, execute commands like sit, stay and down but it also builds your confidence to work as a team. When I felt Monty had a good basic obedience knowledge, I had him tested for the AKC Canine Good Citizen test. Canine Good Citizen (CGC) is a 10-skill test that teaches good manners to dogs and responsible dog ownership to their owners. Once certified, dogs earn their CGC title. Monty received his CGC before he turned one year old.

Tracy & Monty working as a

I also enrolled Monty in a class designed to help with distractions. Dogs were asked to follow basic obedience commands while walking closely past other dogs and handlers. Or sitting quietly while handlers had a conversation. We also trained around equipment like baby carriages, wheel chairs, crutches, canes and even desk chairs. You don’t realize, especially for small dogs, the need to desensitize them to large objects moving around them. They need to learn that you as a handler will not put them in a harmful situation.

We continued to work on basic obedience and distractions until at one year and five months old Monty tested to become a therapy dog. Testing is done by contacting one of the national organizations like Alliance of Therapy Dogs or Therapy Dogs International. Monty was tested and certified by Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Testing requires three or more supervised/observation visits to see how you and your dog work as a team and if the dog really has the right temperament to be a therapy dog. There is a written questionnaire handlers complete showing that they understand the rules of being a therapy dog team and that the proper equipment is used (no training collars, 3-foot leash). The AKC program recognizes AKC dogs and their owners who have given their time and helped people by volunteering as a therapy dog and owner team. Monty currently has his THD title (see below). He is 25 visits away from earning the next level THDA.

In addition to the therapy dog titles, different organizations require the handler to have criminal background checks and/or child services background checks. Some hospitals require volunteers to go through an interview process and additional observations if entering children’s units.

Therapy Dog Titles

  • AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN)
    Must have completed 10 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog (THD)
    Must have completed 50 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Advanced (THDA)
    Must have completed 100 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Excellent (THDX)
    Must have completed 200 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD)
    Must have completed 400 visits

Beth: What is your favorite part of doing therapy work? Do you have a favorite assignment?

Tracy: My favorite part about doing therapy dog work, is seeing the smiles Monty brings. I also love being an ambassador of the Scottish Terrier breed. Many people in our area have never seen a Scottie in person and Monty is Wheaton color, which makes him even more rare. I love educating people about Scottish Terriers and bragging about all of Monty’s accomplishments. Our favorite assignment is “Read to Dogs” program at the local schools and libraries. Monty loves children and helping special needs children with their reading confidence is so rewarding. We have had children change character names in books to “Monty” while they read and others curl up next to Monty and his little head turns like he listens to every last word. It’s the most endearing thing ever.

Beth: What are your goals for you and Monty?

Tracy: Currently, we are working towards Monty’s THDA, Therapy Dog Advanced, title which is 100 visits. Our next goal will be testing at our local airport for their C.O.P.E. Program (Canines Offering Passengers Encouragement). Monty needs to be a therapy dog for one year to qualify, February will be his one-year mark as a therapy dog.
The primary function of the C.O.P.E. program is to give the opportunity for therapy dogs and their handlers to provide and overall enhanced customer experience, providing stress relief and comfort to passengers.

Beth: I know that you participate in several additional performance and companion sports with Monty. Can you give us an overview on all of the different events he is participating in? Is there a particular one that is his favorite?

Tracy: In addition to therapy dog, Monty shows in Obedience trials, Rally trials, and Fast CAT events. Monty has earned his Beginner Novice title in Obedience which tests his ability to heal on leash, a controlled recall, figure 8 healing, and his ability to stay as I walk around the ring without him. Obedience requires Monty to receive one command and execute it. He is currently practicing to move up which will have him performing healing off leash. In Rally, Monty has earned his Rally Intermediate title. Rally is my favorite because it’s like performing a dance. Handler and dog complete a course of rally signs with commands like 360 degree turns, pivots, and even jumps. The course is timed and scored based on how the dog performs. In Rally, you are allowed to communicate verbally with your dog the whole performance. We are currently training for Rally Advanced which will also take us off leash. Off leash is a lot of work, but we are doing well in training. Monty’s favorite sport is Fast CAT (Coursing Ability Test). Fast CAT is a 100-yard dash. The dog chases a “lure” and results are timed and converted into an MPH speed. For the AKC, Fast CAT scores the average of the dog’s top 3 speeds. Scores are listed by breed. For 2023 Monty finished #7 for all Scottish Terriers with an average speed of 17.07MPH. Monty currently has his BCAT title and will be earning his DCAT this spring.

Beth: What would you look for in a dog’s personality that would make it compatible with being a therapy dog? What is a big no?

Tracy: Therapy dogs should be well mannered around people as well as other dogs. They should show interest in meeting new people, be calm, friendly and not disruptive like barking or growling. I also feel like the dog should have patience for things out of the norm. Many times, we encounter wheelchairs, hospital equipment, kids dropping things, loud noises etc. If a dog is scared, it could result in less than favorable behaviors. Dogs should know you as the handler will not put them in a harmful situation. There is a lot of trust needed to be a therapy dog team.

As far as a no, I would say, if a dog is reactive to other dogs, like if they lunge, or growl/bark at other dogs or people, they would not make a good therapy dog. Also, dogs that scare easily would not make good therapy dogs. Their reaction could be dangerous to clients.

Beth: While everyone thinks of therapy work as being very positive and uplifting – there have to be days that are particularly hard. Can you share a bit about the highs and lows?

“Me Time” for Monty. Running Fast CAT

“Me Time” for Monty. Running Fast CAT

Tracy: Therapy Dog work is very uplifting. The accomplishment and pride I have when we walk into a room and people exclaim “Monty’s here!” And the joy brought to clients is so fulfilling; however, yes there has been difficult situations we’ve encountered. Working in the hospital, we see many hardships and sadness. I’ve noticed drops in energy with Monty, so I know he feels it too. The Fast CAT events we do with Monty is for fun and nurturing his mental health too. I try to space his visits out so he gets equal amounts of fun with the difficult cases. Fun would be working with children in the Read to Dogs program. It’s something Monty loves doing. Working at the hospital is more draining on Monty. We work the first and third Thursday of the month in the hospital’s behavioral health department and every other Friday in the main hospital. Limiting his visits in the hospital and also mixing up things like visiting the cancer infusion center and then going to the pharmacy for treats, helps keep him balanced when there are difficult situations.

Beth: How many hours a week do you spend visiting and working?

Tracy: Currently, we work every other Friday for 1 to 2 hours at our local hospital. We also visit the mental health unit for 1.5 hours twice a month. In addition, we have a 1-hour monthly visit to a retirement community as well as other one-off assignments such as college visits, read to dogs’ program and rehab facilities. The nice thing is we can pick and choose how much we want to volunteer. I try to keep him active and have at least one visit a week. The holidays and winter illnesses sometimes limit us. Currently, behavioral health is not allowing visitors so we haven’t been doing our twice a month visits.

Beth: What is your advice to anyone thinking about getting into therapy work with their dog?

Tracy: My advice for someone wanting to be a therapy dog team is pay attention to your dog’s needs. Some dogs respond better to children and some are better suited for adults. Schedule visits where you know your dog will excel. Also, keep training and working with your dog. It strengthens your bond.

Beth: Is there anything else that you would like to share?

Tracy: Monty has exceeded my expectations as a therapy dog. I noticed times at the hospital we would be walking down a hallway and he would stop and pull me towards someone he thought needed him. He has an uncanny ability to seek out those people. I often times let him lead me in the hospital. It is amazing to watch him at work.
On behalf of everyone, I would like to thank Tracy for sharing so much of her great experiences with Monty both in service and sport. Tracy and Monty are members of the Lehigh Valley Therapy Dogs ( Tracy would also like to give credit to Tall Tails Training in Slatington, PA and Allentown Dog Training Club in Macungie, PA.