Utah the Therapy Dog Brings Smiles to Faces of All Ages
Snow-white fur, big brown eyes crowned with white eyelashes, four fluffy paws strolling down the sidewalk — here comes everyone’s favorite Tulsa kid, er, dog. A weekly fixture in multiple area schools, nursing homes and hospitals, therapy dog Utah, a 12-year-old Samoyed, never meets a person he doesn’t like and is energized by just the thought of getting out of the house to brighten someone else’s day. I sat down with Utah over a puppuccino at his favorite Starbucks and got to know a little more about him.
Utah: I’m a 12-year-old therapy dog who likes to get up and go. I like everybody except squirrels and opossums. I like all kinds of people.
TK: What do you do as a therapy dog?
Utah: If you’re a new English speaker or if you’re learning to read, I sit next to you and give you confidence, because I can’t read so well myself and I’m not going to judge anybody. If you’re having a “ruff” day like some of the kids at the schools I visit, I’m there just to make you feel better and give you somebody to whisper to. If you’re a senior adult, I’m there because you miss your grandchildren, and I can help you feel a little bit better. I’m not particularly trained to do anything, but I love people.
TK: How did you learn to be a therapy dog? What did you do?
Utah: That’s the odd thing. My type of dog is usually very relaxed, easygoing and wants to be around people. And that’s basically what a therapy dog is. With the group of therapy dogs that I’m a part of, it’s basically you don’t jump, you don’t lick, you stay beside your owner and listen to what they say, and when people come up to pet you, you just lean into them and let them know, “Hey, I’m your friend.” My person filled out eight pages of information on herself and three pages on me. We go to a lot of schools, so I have to prove that I haven’t bitten anybody, that my owner is a nice person and that we agree to follow the rules at each school.
TK: What is the best thing about being a therapy dog?
Utah: I think the best thing is when you can be there to help somebody who is having a bad day or somebody who is learning something. I helped a little girl at Little Light House who had never said a full word. And they got her on video saying “doggie.” That’s the first full word they had heard her say in two years.
TK: What is the most difficult thing about being a therapy dog?
Utah: Getting measured and being told, “Quit moving your ear,” “Quit moving your tail,” and “Quit rolling your tail up!” (Utah was measured by students at Eliot Elementary for a math activity.)
TK: What are your favorite places to go in Tulsa?
Utah: Well, I really like to go to restaurants that have outdoor dining. That way I can look at what everybody’s having, and they don’t feel like I’m going to steal the bacon on their plate. I also like to go to the Gathering Place and walking with my people. And I especially like to go for walks off leash so I can really sniff.
TK: Do you ever get anything when you go out to eat?
Utah: I look at them with my big brown eyes and white eyelashes and I usually get a snack or two during the meal.
TK: Do you get haircuts?
Utah: No. I have really baby pink skin, and sunlight will make me sunburned. It will also cause allergies. The only thing they ever trim is the hair on my feet because sometimes it gets so long that I look like the Grinch who stole Christmas.
TK: What fears do you have?
Utah: I’m afraid of fireworks, thunderstorms and the Goodyear blimp! And if the food runs out…
TK: How much sleep do you get?
Utah: A lot. Like today, my people and I got up at 4:30 in the morning. I came home by 7 and have had at least five naps between then and noon. So, I can go really fast and hard for a while, and then I have to take a little bit of a nap.
TK: What are your favorite foods and treats?
Utah: The favorite thing that I have every night after my last walk outside is a medium Greenie, which is a small green bone that looks like a toothbrush on one end and a bone on the other. It gives me minty-fresh breath. I like just about anything that doesn’t bite me first. Well, I do not like pickles. I do not like sauerkraut. But I like hotdogs and hamburgers. Mom and Dad will occasionally give me a steak bone. So, I pretty much like anything.
TK: What is one fun fact about you?
Utah: That I’m able to con anybody out of any treat by just batting my big white eyelashes at them.
Follow Utah the Therapy Dog on Instagram: @utahthesamoyed
Danielle Hill is a first-grade teacher at Eliot Elementary and a freelance writer. She is also Utah’s friend and enjoys his classroom visits. Danielle loves stars, big yellow moons and, unlike Utah, opossums!