For several years, Arkansas Heart Hospital has used pet therapy as a way to promote healing, motivate progress and lift spirits for our patients. These furry friends aren’t just helpful companions in times of need – they’re instant mood boosters when they walk through our doors. We’ve seen countless faces light up at just the moment they need something to smile about, and we know it’s going to be a good day when we see these pups in our halls.
Pet therapy is a guided interaction between a person and a trained animal that aims to help that person recover or cope with a health problem or mental illness. At Arkansas Heart Hospital, dogs are the pet therapy animals our patients interact with, though there are many types of animals that can be used in pet therapy. We’ll be introducing you to some of our four-legged friends and the people that love, care for and train them to be a blessing to our patients.
Boom Shocka Locka is a 4 year old Border Doodle from McKinney, Texas. Vanessa and Boom have been involved in pet therapy for about 3 years.
Vanessa knew she wanted to do pet therapy and she wanted to do it at Children’s Hospital. She set out researching and learning about pet therapy and which breeds would make good pet therapy dogs. She had a Lab at the time but wanted to find the best breed to be a therapy dog. She spent about 6 months researching breeds and programs every night. Vanessa said that one night she came home and she was really tired so she decided to be specific in her search – “really smart dog that does not shed.” That’s when she discovered the Border Doodle – and the rest is history. She found Boom Shocka Locka in McKinney, Texas, when he was 9 weeks old.
Vaness and Boom took many training classes to build a trusting relationship with each other. In her opinion, communication and trusting your partner are two of the important elements for a successful team. That trust goes both ways. She started working with Boom when he was around 12 weeks old. They started with PetSmart obedience training. There were folks in classes that kept telling her that she needed to meet Georgann with Central Arkansas Pet Partners (CAPP). She was told that Georgann was a wealth of information regarding animal assisted intervention. One day, Vanessa just happened to be in the right place at the right time and got to meet Georgann. Georgann took Vanessa under her wing and mentored her through the process. Vanessa and Boom continued working hard to be ready for the CAPP evaluation. Shortly after his 1st birthday, they passed the evaluation to become a registered team.
What is Boom’s favorite activity?
“Boom loves to run with other dogs and swim and fetch. He will fetch anything. He loves agility. In this time where we have not been able to do our regular visiting, we have been working on agility. He loves it. Agility is like running an obstacle course. He gets all excited to run the course.”
Did you know Boom would make a good pet therapy dog?
“I did. As I said, I started training early on. He is really smart and it showed every step of the way as we trained. He was a natural in so many ways. When we get to our visiting destination, he takes the lead. He is very confident. I think there is a bit of entertainer in him – he loves applause after he does a trick. Sometimes when we are at Children’s Hospital, he will do a trick and wait for a response. I have to say to the kiddos, he is waiting for you to clap for him. They do and he gets very happy.”
Where does his name come from?
“We were almost to Boom’s home in Texas to pick him up. I said I thought it would be fun to name him Clark Kent. We already had a lab named Maximus Kal-El (Superman’s Kryptioian name). I was thinking it was fitting to name the puppy Clark Kent. My kids yelled, ‘NO,’ at the same time. They convinced me to name him something original. So of course, I started calling out the names of the fighter pilot call signs of one of the best TV series ever, Battlestar Galactica. Starbuck — my kids said NO. Apollo — NO again. Boomer—my son said no because of the football player from Oklahoma, Boomer Sooner. Then I said what about Boom? The next words I heard were Shocka Locka! We chanted it for a little bit and decided the name was perfect. The first time we saw him we knew his name was perfect because he was booming with energy. If someone hears his name for the first time and they don’t smile, then they are having a bad day. If you want to make him happy, chant Boom Shocka Locka and watch his tail wag!”
Vanessa wanted to encourage folks who are interested in doing pet therapy to educate themselves. Anyone interested in pet therapy can contact the local chapter of Pet Partners, Central Arkansas Pet Partners (CAPP) or visit our website. They are always happy to answer questions from potential handlers.
When Vanessa started visiting, it was because she wanted to be part of making a difference in someone’s life — even if it is just for five minutes. What Vanessa did not realize was that the visits would end up being just as much for her as it was for the people they get to visit. She says that in just a few minutes, it can totally shift her mindset from down to up.
Boom Shocka Locka and Vanessa definitely make a difference when they visit the patients and staff of Arkansas Heart Hospital. We are so proud to have them as part of the AHH pet therapy team.
To learn more about how Arkansas Heart Hospital provides amazing treatment for its patients, learn more about our heart care services.