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An Interview with Stacy McCoy

May 14, 2012

        In June 2007, Stacy McCoy said good-bye to her career as a third grade school teacher. The choice to retire was a difficult one for this woman who had worked for twenty-seven years, beloved by hundreds of students. After retiring, she began trying to find hobbies to occupy her time. After all, spending hours in class followed by grading papers and projects made Stacy used to a very busy lifestyle. Several months after retiring, her thirteen-year-old dog suddenly passed away. Stacy was stricken with grief as her life changed so much in less than a year. However, her husband began encouraging her to volunteer in some way because he knew that she found joy in helping others.

        Always an animal lover, Stacy began searching the Internet for volunteer programs involving animals. She stumbled across the Guide Dog Puppy Raising Program through Guide Dogs for the Blind, where volunteers essentially raise a puppy until they are a year old, then give them up so that can become guide dogs for the blind. Volunteers in this program typically teach the puppy basic obedience skills, socialize them, and make sure they are well traveled. The skills for working as a guide dog are taught following the puppy’s return to the organization.

         Stacy applied for the program and was accepted. She was overjoyed to have the distraction of a new yellow Labrador retriever puppy that was named Daisy. Daisy became her new companion, going with her wherever she went. Stacy could barely stand that she would have to return this lovable dog. However, by a stroke of luck, Daisy did not successfully complete guide dog training. A representative of the organization contacted Stacy and asked her if she would like to keep Daisy as a pet. Stacy agreed, without hesitation.

        Although Daisy had not completed training, she was still a very well behaved, obedient animal. Stacy needed to find a new hobby as well since she realized she would not be able to repeatedly give up more dogs under the guide dog program. A friend of Stacy’s suggested animal assisted therapy in order to use Daisy’s skills. Stacy found the program at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), a short twenty minutes from her Fullerton home.

        I met Stacy just outside of CHOC’s entrance to interview her. We wandered into their cafeteria and I began asking questions. Stacy is the mother of a colleague where I work.

Moretta: So let’s get started. I’ll probably ask about 15 questions, but we’ll see how it goes and where we are on time. Ok. First off, what is animal assisted therapy?

 McCoy: Animal assisted therapy brings animals into the healing process. Typically dogs are the most common animals, but, um, I know that potbellied pigs are too and I’m not really sure about any others. I am sure more animals are used but don’t want to tell you something if it’s not true. CHOC only uses dogs, though.  Anyways, animals help staff get their job done and to… um… possibly help the patient to reach treatment goals or just to lower anxiety.

Moretta: How does an animal become a therapy, um, “assistant”? I don’t know if that’s how you refer to them or if there is a specific name or something.

McCoy: I don’t know for other animals, but I’m just going to talk about the process for dogs because that’s all I know. The dogs have to pass an obedience test. They also have to be at least a year old. Behavior and temperament is important as well because obviously you don’t want a dog that could potentially harm the children or anything like that. Once the dog passes the test, they can get registered with either Therapy Dogs International or um, what’s the name, hmm… oh, Delta Society and then they are able to work, or at least at CHOC they are allowed to work. I don’t know if other places have more restrictions or tests or anything like that.

Moretta: Can you tell me more about Daisy and what she does?

McCoy: Well, Daisy really is a lovely dog. I don’t know what I would do without her. She’s six years old. A yellow Labrador retriever. Basically, she visits kids who are… um… in the hospital for a long stays, or she visits kids that maybe have a broken leg or are here for a couple days, but she brings cheer to these kids.

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