Nikki Linmore, executive director of the Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare program was looking for a creative way to soothe anxious and upset children in their foster care program. She has seen dogs help soothe children in courtrooms before just by being present and realized a four-legged professional might be the best therapy to make difficult times a little easier for the children.
The search for the right paws to fit the shoes however, was not an easy process for Nikki. Twice, she tried working with rescued Labrador Retriever pups, but was disappointed to find that both rescued puppies were uncomfortable with their working environment and failed their dispositions tests. One disliked loud noises and the other feared wheelchairs and strollers. Therapy dogs are constantly around different people and new environments; therefore, it is important for them to be calm and comfortable with all situations. It can be very tricky to find a special puppy with the right temperament to do that. That was when Nikki decided to reach out to PuppySpot.
Nikki told us that children in the program are often scared and stressed attending court proceedings and adjusting to new environments. These children need a friend who can be a playmate, a supportive cheerleader, and a calming presence to comfort them in vulnerable situations.
PuppySpot listened to Nikki's needs and dug through the core traits of different dog breeds that will fit the qualities of a therapy dog. A good therapy dog needs to be smart, friendly and extremely patient. We decided to appoint a Golden Retriever puppy for this important mission. This special puppy was raised in the loving care by a member of our screened and vetted breeder community with over 15 years of experience, who takes pride in making sure their puppies are healthy and well socialized with people of all ages. With that background and a Golden Retriever's eager-to-please nature and intelligence, we were convinced that this sweet golden bundle of joy would be a wonderful fit. The tribe decided to name her "Unali", pronounced ooo-naw-lee, the word for "friend" in Cherokee.
It makes our hearts melt to hear from Unali's handler, Child Welfare Specialist Connie Webb, that "Unali is quite the celebrity here, she is so gentle with the younger ones, it is quite something to see. She is a perfect match for our program." Nikki added, "She already loves the children, and the children love her."
Unali has already graduated her first course of training in manners and is now attending the second course in courtesy. That is amazing progress for a 1-year-old pup! "She still gets a little too excited when she sees the children, but they appreciate the love and puppy kisses," Connie shared. With more practice, Unali will mature and learn to stay calm when accompanying children attending serious court meetings and help them cope with stress with her soothing presence. Soon, she will take up her job in her official uniform as a certified therapy dog.
As dog-lovers ourselves, we understand that the unconditional affection and joy our furry friends can bring is priceless, especially to those in need. It was our pleasure to unite Unali with the Indian Child Welfare Program. We are thrilled to see the pawsitive difference that Unali has made and will continue to make in the lives of these children!
If you'd like to learn more about Cherokee Nation's Indian Child Welfare Program or see how you can help, please visit cherokeekids.org.