RANDOLPH NJ- Rocky Freeman, an English bulldog, is a therapy dog bringing smiles to people around Randolph. The three-year-old is a certified therapy dog who visits both children and the elderly to help relieve tension and to bring some happiness into their lives. Rocky visits children in the Center Grove preschool program, Shongum Elementary school, as well as in numerous counseling sessions weekly

Allison Freeman, a Randolph mother of two girls, owns two therapy dogs, Rocky and an older dog Sonny who is a Newfoundland. Freeman has been working with her dogs for years and is knowledgeable about the extensive training and the significance of having a therapy dog.

Freeman explained the training process, “In order to train your dog, you must find out if your dog has the right personality in order to become a therapy dog. Then, you must complete a ten-week training class so you and your dog can develop the necessary skills. The training puts you in situations to show how your dog needs to behave in settings such as a school or a hospital, or with fire alarms or in an elevator. At the end of the training, there is a one on one exam to demonstrate the skills you and your dog have learned. If you pass the exam, the dog will be certified as an official therapy dog.”

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One of the main goals of the training is to teach the idea that the owner and the dog are a team who must constantly work together in order to accomplish the task at hand. The dog and the owner must learn to rely on each other for the support and guidance necessary in each situation they encounter as a team.

Another important aspect of being and owning a therapy dog is passion. Genuine dedication and excitement is necessary to be an effective therapy team. Both Allison and Rocky have this passion for what they do. One can easily notice the love Rocky has for what she does, as she sprints to the door ready to go, when the activity is merely mentioned around her.

In order for a therapy dog to be allowed in a school setting, the dog must be registered through a therapy agency. The dog must also be registered and approved by the school it will be visiting.  There is a “doggie-interview” where an administrator meets the dog and approves of its demeanor and its prerequisite paperwork.

There are significant beneficial purposes for a therapy dog such as Rocky. Freeman described, “For many younger kids, [a therapy dog] is their first interaction with an animal. Rocky can show kids how to pet and give treats to all dogs properly. Rocky teaches kids responsibility as they learn what it means to own and care for another thing and it gives them something to look forward to during a school day. Rocky is a comfort dog and helps relieve the anxiety of some kids and helps with sensory skills. They gain these skills by petting her fur, brushing her, and throwing balls back and forth with her.”

Rocky is a favorite treat for many kids in the school system, and there is always room for many more therapy dogs like her. All that is needed is a dedicated owner, and a dog with a trainable, positive personality. Any breed, any age, and any gender of dog can be trained as long as those two prior qualifications are met.

Nothing but positive remarks are heard after a visit from Rocky, as she puts a smile on virtually everyone’s face. Owner Freeman concludes, “I always knew I wanted a therapy dog... it’s a nice way to share your dog and give back to the community.”

If interested in Rocky’s services or want to know more about therapy dog use in the district,  contact the Department of Special Services or a Principal at one of the Randolph schools.