Dove is a five-year old chocolate Labrador Retriever with a calm, friendly disposition – she is eager to love and be loved in return.
In addition to being a regular dog, Dove is also a trained and certified therapy dog, affiliated with an international organization, Canines for Christ, which is devoted to providing spiritual, educational, medical, and emotional support to the public.
Along with her owner and trainer, Kevin Reed, Dove visits assisted living facilities, hospitals, schools, and prisons around Gadsden County, as well as making housecalls in the area upon request.
During these visits, Reed provides a sermon to a group or individual, while Dove roams freely among the individuals in the room, giving and receiving affection to whoever needs it.
“I’ve always been a dog person, growing up,” says Reed. “How I really got into animal therapy was when I went through cancer.”
Reed describes a six-month ordeal involving multiple radiation treatments and chemotherapy.
“A month before I was diagnosed with cancer, I was looking for a chocolate lab. I kept looking and looking, and I found Dove at an animal shelter in Port Saint Joe. We brought her home and she was already trained,” Reed says. “We got her when she was nine-months-old, and now she is five-years-old. Right after that, I was diagnosed with cancer. At that time I was off from work, and we bonded together.”
Following his bout with cancer, and his retirement, Reed decided that he and Dove would become an animal therapy team.
“I said, when I retire, I want to give back to the community,” Reed says of the decision.
Dove received her training at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in an eight-week program designed to certify both the health and behavioral preparedness of the animals involved.
The animals that participate in the program are usually dogs, but cats, birds, and even horses have been successfully trained and employed as therapy animals, according to the hospital’s animal therapy website.
Following their successful completion of the training program, Reed and Dove were prepared to serve the community.
“I went with this organization, Canines for Christ, because there’s more freedom to bring the good news of the Gospel.” says Reed.
In the words of the organization: “Canines for Christ is an international Christian-based, animal-assisted therapy ministry that uses ordinary people and their beloved dogs to share God’s message of love, hope, kindness and compassion in the community.”
While the spiritual aspects of this approach are clearly stated, there is also a great deal of scientific evidence available showing medical and emotional benefits to simply interacting with an animal in a positive manner.
“Hundreds of clinical trials have shown that petting an animal reduces blood pressure and heart rate, thus reducing stress and anxiety,” the Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare animal therapy website states. “It also releases oxytocin and endorphins, which help patients feel better and aid in their healing. Therapy animals provide motivation and even pain management for patients experiencing difficulty in their rehabilitation.”
Reed, who – before his retirement – worked with the State of Florida for over 30 years in a marketing position, credits his work experience with helping him grow the scope of his and Dove’s volunteer work, which began during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At that time, due to the strict quarantine protocols in effect, only one location was available in Gadsden County for the pair to visit.
As they were unable to physically visit and offer therapeutic services, Reed says he instead focused on distanced outreach – primarily by knocking on doors, passing out business cards, and communicating with people through email during the heat of the pandemic.
“This is a service to the local community, Gadsden county,” says Reed. “That’s why we go every quarter to the fire department and see how they’re doing. The police department too. I try to reach out to students and the community, to let them know we are here.”
If you are interested in learning more about Canines for Christ, you can visit their webpage at k9forchrist.org
If you are interested in Dove’s services, Kevin Reed can be contacted by telephone at (850) 868-0519 and by email at email@example.com
Stephen Klein – Gadsden County News Service