When Kelley Keith started searching for projects to earn her Girl Scout Silver Award, she didn’t need to look very far. Her small but trusty pal, Nacho, would be the perfect partner to help her serve the community and earn one of the highest awards that can be achieved by a cadet. Through training and certification, Nacho would become the “little dog that could” and delight many people through quality time and endless pets.

Nacho: The Perfect Dog for the Job

Nacho came to the Keith family as a rescue dog. While his exact heritage is not known, he seems to be part chihuahua and most likely part pug. He is a three-year-old bone-loving pup that quickly stood up to the challenge presented to him. While some might picture a larger breed as a therapy dog, it turns out that Nacho’s small stature and loving nature make him the perfect companion for destressing and tranquility.

While the initial intention was simply to train Nacho as a reading dog, it quickly became apparent that his talents could be put to use in a therapeutic practice as well. Kelley had trained him in a similar program when she was younger, but in prepping him for this particular reading certification, she found many sources that informed her of an insurance requirement. That quickly lead to other articles and information that described the process of therapy dog certification. When it came down to it, it just made sense to make the effort and get the full certification for Nacho.

The Process of Getting Nacho and Kelley Certified as the Therapy Dog Duo

The process of therapy dog certification contains several steps. They first went to basic obedience training. While going through the course, Kelley also had to look into an organization that would certify Nacho and herself as a minor. They soon found the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD) to help them in their quest. Kelley touts of “an amazing experience” with the organization, should others be interested in pursuing the same program. 

ATD has a unique testing process in which the pet parent and her pet are observed and tested to make sure they have a good relationship with each other as well as the public they will be serving. Once Nacho tested and was found to have the right temperament for therapy dog work, Kelley and Nacho were observed out in the field. This included observations of three visits to facilities with two of those visits specific to a medical facility. During these supervised visits, the Tester/Observer instructed Kelley and Nacho on the art of visiting and gave guidance while observing them in action. In the end, they received the certification necessary and went out to share their new service with the community.

Where Are They Now? The Future of Kelley and Nacho’s Therapy Dog Life

These days, Kelley and Nacho mostly visit assisted living facilities to bring comfort and joy to the people there. Over the summer Nacho and Kelley worked at a camp for underprivileged kids. It was a delight to watch the children fawn over him and to be filled with excitement each and every day. Kelley hopes to continue to bring cheer and liveliness to the people in old and in new ways. She is now an advocate for the therapy dog process and aspires to spread the word about therapy dogs and the good they can do.

For younger adults that are interested in getting a therapy dog certification, Kelley says, “go for it!” Her lesson to you is that “before you begin, if you are a minor, you must have an adult certified as well. To begin, start training your dog basic commands and research requirements for therapy dog certification.” The testers will work with you every step of the way and help guide you and your pet to success.

Kelley is now 14 years old and attending her freshman year at Kell High School. Outside of school she is enrolled in the Girl Scouts and spends time practicing for competitive gymnastics. She and Nacho are looking forward to many years of fun, friendship, and therapeutic visits throughout the community.

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