By Daleen Comer
Cloud, my 5-year-old male Ringneck Dove, has been working as a registered therapy animal since October of 2010. He is a popular visitor to a senior day care in Mission Viejo, and he is also certified as a “Reading Education Assistance Dog” (or “Dove”, in his case). In his role as a “Reading Dove”, he visits children in an elementary school classroom on a regular basis, and the children read aloud to him. At the senior day care, Cloud is placed in an open basket, and he is carried from person to person. The seniors are encouraged to reach into the basket and pet him and talk about him. Many of the seniors have owned birds before, but smaller birds (canaries, parakeets) are not as docile and don’t permit handling. Cloud’s gentle demeanor and quiet cooing make them smile. Many of the children Cloud visits have never had a pet. Their first question is always, “Does he bite?” I encourage them to pet him and see that he is very tame and friendly, and soon the students are feeding him seeds or shredded lettuce, and giggling at his attempts to pick up the treats from their palms. Cloud also participates in elementary school presentations about therapy animals.
Cloud was hatched in our home, so he has been handled regularly since he was a few days old. He enjoys riding in the car, going to different places, and meeting new people, so training him to pass the therapy animal test was easy. In the test, animals must be handled by a variety of people and tolerate loud noises and other situations they may encounter during visits. Birds must wear a harness and leash, and must be carried in a basket for their safety. The most difficult part of the preparations was getting the equipment. The harness and leash were available for purchase (“Flightsuit” by Avian Fashions), but the basket and a carrying bag had to be made. Sewing is one of my hobbies, so I designed and made a tote bag with a flexible cage built in, so he could be easily transported from the car to the facility. I got a large basket and sewed in a lining and partial cover, so that he doesn’t try to fly straight up, as doves do not have their wings clipped. Cloud had to learn to stay in the basket for an hour, the typical length of our reading sessions. By sprinkling seeds in the basket and sitting with him, with the suit and leash on, I taught him to stay in the basket quietly
Cloud is registered with AHF Caring Creatures. Although a variety of animals can be registered, including cats, rabbits, birds, mini horses and llamas, most of the therapy animals in the group are dogs. Our senior and school visits are done in a group, with several therapy dogs and Cloud. Many of our dogs are of hunting breeds, so we have to be careful to keep Cloud at a distance. The dogs are too well trained to attack him, but if they are distracted, they cannot do their job properly. Because he is so quiet, the dogs are often not even aware he is in the room with them. Cloud even worked at AHF’s booth at a pet fair, at the same time as a cat and two dogs. None of the other animals even knew he was there, because he didn’t flutter around and make noise. Their quiet demeanor and positive associations make doves ideal therapy animals.