After two months apart, Marty Boman was glad to be reunited with her friend: Candoo the therapy dog.
Boman works as the director of the Kelly Autism Program and is the 2-year-old English cream golden retriever’s primary caretaker.
“It does feel really good,” she said. “You don’t realize how much you miss him. You miss him right away at the beginning and then when they return it’s like your baby is back.”
Boman has been Candoo’s caretaker since last October when he came to WKU as a gift. Boman was asked if she was interested in taking the dog into her home by the the dog’s donors because she and her husband always kept dogs. Her other two dogs passed away the previous summer of old age.
“My husband said, ‘No more dogs,’” Boman said. “Then all of a sudden this opportunity came up and he said, ‘Yes we’ll take it right away,’ when I asked him.”
Boman’s husband passed away before Candoo arrived.
“Candoo’s been good therapy for me,” she said. “After 37 years of being married, yes Candoo’s has been good therapy for me.”
Candoo returned to WKU last month after receiving some reinforcement training from Smoky Mountain Service Dogs in Knoxville, Tenn. Susan Shemwell, is a trainer at the nonprofit, which she said focuses mainly on training mobility assistance dogs for disabled veterans.
“We teach the dogs to hold their stance,” she said. “So if they need to use them for balance, the veterans, they have a special mobility harness for that.”
During his training, instructors improved Candoo’s “snuggle command” which is used to comfort children with autism. Previously when Candoo performed the command he would get a little too excited in anticipation for the reward he would receive after obeying his handler. Weighing in at 90 pounds, handlers were concerned Candoo might get too excited with the children he was snuggling.
“We just removed the food, and we would reward him away from the person being snuggled instead of having the food close by,” Shemwell said. “After he performed we’d walk away, and then he’d either get a reward of a toy or the food away from the task.”
Candoo has several different handlers who handle him in different ways. Trainers also helped make sure that everyone was communicating with Candoo consistently in order to maintain his level of obedience.
Shemwell described Candoo’s temperament as laid back, which would make him a good mobility assistance dog. However, when Candoo was younger he grew too fast and required surgery on his knees, limiting him to work as a therapy dog.
Colombia, Tenn., senior and Military Student Services Assistant Kent Johnson is also glad to see Candoo return.
“While he was gone I had a list of people asking for Candoo,” he said. “It wasn’t just us, the WKU community in general was missing him.”
Johnson said he notices that Candoo is quicker to his commands now, although he was already pretty sharp to begin with.
“I think he’s happy to be back too,” he said.
Candoo visits classrooms and is available to students who might be suffering from anxiety, especially veterans.
“The benefits of animal-assisted therapy is really up-and-coming,” he said. “People are starting to realize how beneficial it is.”
Johnson, who served as a Marine between 2004 and 2008, works at Military Student Services.
“There’s at least one person I know that served with me that has a therapy dog,” he said. “It’s great that we have Candoo here for those that don’t have that.”
Smoky Mountain Service Dogs offered Candoo’s donors, John and Linda Kelly and Terry Scariot, a choice of another dog, Boman said.
“John and Terry both said ‘this is perfect a special needs dog for students with special needs,’” Boman said.
Candoo spends his afternoons at the Kelly Autism Program and his mornings at Military Student Services. Boman’s best memories of Candoo are the reactions program participants have when they interact with Candoo.
“To watch the kiddos faces and laughing with a good belly laugh that’s so important for them,” Boman said. “Any child when they’re happy like that makes my day.”