Daily Press, Hampton Roads, VA
January 27, 2015
As Lothair, a white Sheltie therapy dog, makes his way in to USAF Hospital Langley in Hampton for his weekly visit to meet with patients, he walks tall and proud into the building and is immediately greeted with a hug from a receptionist at the front desk.
Lothair continues walking down the hall, carrying himself like royalty, appropriate for a dog named after a French monarch. From the time the dog was a puppy, he had a proud, dignified air about him, his owner, Hampton resident Melanie Paul said.
"He was beautiful," she said. "He was like a king."
Watching the way Lothair moves and interacts with patients at the hospital, it is not obvious that Lothair has been deaf since birth.
"Deafness is an invisible disability," she said via email.
Lothair began serving as a therapy dog — providing emotional support to patients in hospitals, nursing homes and other settings — several years ago.
He is registered with New Jersey-based Therapy Dogs International, which has dogs registered in all 50 states and Canada. Along with tests required by the organization to become a certified therapy dog, deaf dogs must also undergo a startle test. During the test, someone will come up behind the dog and pet and touch its rear quarters, and the dog cannot be startled or react negatively, TDI's website states.
Paul has had therapy dogs for more than 15 years, with experience that includes starting a pet therapy program at Sentara CarePlex Hospital more than a decade ago and starting the same program at Langley about five years ago.
She usually brings Lothair and another therapy dog to Langley once or twice a week and also makes regular visits to local hospitals and nursing homes.
Paul decided to acquire a deaf dog as she prepared to retire from Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in 2009 after a 30-year career in education, intending to use the dog to help deaf children improve their literacy skills, she said.