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Woman pursues her passion with therapy dogs

Earl even found a hat to wear for hat day. Earl is one of the therapy dogs with Ugly Dog Therapy out of Prescott. Submitted photo1 / 4
Jenny Langness, owner of Ugly Dog Therapy, said Earl, a 7-year-old Pudelpointer, enjoyed a scooter ride at the school. Submitted photo2 / 4
Jennifer Langness started Ugly Dog Therapy in April. Her dogs Jager, Earl, and Albert travel with her to various schools and care facilities.vIn addition to helping with therapy needs the dogs also provide many smiles to those they meet. Submitted photo3 / 4
Albert and Earl are enjoying time at the school. They enjoy sitting on the trampoline and swing. Submitted photo4 / 4

Dogs are considered by many to be "man's best friend" but what does being a best friend mean? What can a dog do for a person? One Prescott woman is using her dogs to provide therapy services to people in the area and bring smiles to those faces.

Jenny Langness, owner of Ugly Dog Therapy, said the name Ugly Dog Therapy originates from her first dog, Jager.

"Our very first dog is a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon," Langness said. "We first got [him] for hunting purposes, [breed is] considered an ugly dog."

After she got Jager, Langness adopted an Italian Greyhound named Carlos. She took him to obedience classes where the instructor suggested she enroll Carlos in their first therapy class. Langness wanted to keep Carlos busy so she enrolled him, which led to she and Carlos becoming a therapy team.

Ten years ago, Langness and Carlos started volunteering at Gillette Children's Hospital in St. Paul. They started by visiting patients on the floors, but moved to working with an occupational therapist which allowed them to work one-on-one with patients.

"Carlos preferred one-on-one and not visiting floors," Langness said. "He preferred the work, not the play. From there it just went uphill."

During the past 10 years, Langness volunteered at Children's with her dogs Jager (now 13 years old); Earl, a Pudelpointer (now 7 years old); and Albert, a Pudelpointer (now 2 years old) until last summer. Langness has now turned her efforts to Ugly Dog Therapy, which she opened in April, and has expanded her therapy services to more areas.

One unique feature about Ugly Dog Therapy is that Langness has trained the dogs more than is necessary to be certified as a therapy dog.

She said normally therapy dogs may take an obedience class, with an online portion that has to be completed, and a workshop. After this the handler and dog need to pass a test to become certified. In addition, Langness' dogs take acting, trick and agility classes.

"A lot of training I put my dogs through, not everyone does this," Langness said. "I did all of those things to make my dogs not big and scary. I needed my big dog to not seem so scary at Children's."

Langness takes her dogs to Amery Memory Clinic, River Falls Comforts of Home, Have a Heart Farm, Westside Elementary and Meyer Middle School in River Falls and all four Prescott schools. At the schools, Langness works with the occupational therapy department or a counselor.

"Goal was to get the kids to work on tasks longer," Langness said about going to the schools. "Keep their attention a little longer. One of the girls when we started couldn't keep on task more than a minute. Now she can stay on task with Earl for a full task."

The dogs also take students on scooter rides as part of therapy sessions. This works kids' core muscles. Langness said the dogs also have treat toys that people can hold while the dogs get the treat out of it, which helps build up strength.

Langness has a bag filled with treats, toys and other items to be used when she and the therapy dogs go places. The dogs even have their own brushes, toothbrushes and toothpaste which came in handy at Children's when children didn't want to brush their teeth. She would show them how Earl could brush his teeth to motivate the kids to brush their own teeth.

The dogs also helped to get children to eat. Langness said at Children's some of the children who had chemotherapy or gastroenterology problems didn't want to eat or try new foods, so Earl would show them the foods were okay. Sometimes it was just getting the child to put the food in their mouth; the child would see Earl trying food and even if he spit it out, the child would at least attempt to put food in their mouth, knowing they too could spit the food out if needed.

One boy, Langness said, would only eat chicken nuggets; with Earl's help they were able to get the boy to eat part of a hamburger. The boy would throw Earl pieces of his hamburger as he ate the other part.

At a River Falls elementary school, Earl and Albert even helped a child with her writing.

"[Student] had been having issues with writing," Langness said. "First time we met [her] I laid on the mat and put Earl's pencil in his paw and wrote. [Student] put her pencil in Albert's paw and started writing."

Seeing the enjoyment and smiles the dogs bring people has been really rewarding. She told of a boy who introduced the dogs to his class and was asked by the teacher why the dogs were with him.

"They are therapy dogs and they just help me calm down and they are my friends," Langness said the boy told his class and teacher.

While she enjoys seeing Earl, Albert and sometimes Jager help people with therapy needs, Langness also has to make sure that she is taking care of her dogs at all times.

"The hardest part is being your dog's advocate," Langness said. "Hardest part making sure I can watch out for them."

She knows accidents like getting their hair pulled and feet stepped on will happen, but she needs to make sure her dogs don't get hurt or mishandled.

Right now, Langness hopes to continue to grow Ugly Dog Therapies and take her services to more places.

"I want to be able to make this my job," Langness said. "I was told to follow my dream and my passion and that's what I'm doing."

Anyone interested in Ugly Dog Therapy services can contact Langness through her Facebook page www.facebook.com/UglyDogTherapy/ or call her at 612-598-1036.

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