April 13, 2019
Written By Megan Hill
There’s something almost magical in the way dogs can bring smiles and joy to people, young and old alike. Just ask Diane Hudson, a veteran MFA Oil dispatcher who has worked in the company’s corporate office in Columbia since 1981. In her spare time, Hudson trains her beloved pooches to act as therapy dogs within the community, and she shares their love and affection with those who need it most.
“As an empty nester, I felt like I needed something to do after my kids left for college,” Hudson says. “I always had dogs growing up, so I thought it would be nice if I could combine my love for dogs with a way to help others.”
Hudson has two energetic German shepherds, Callie, 6, and Max, 1. Knowing that the German shepherds are prone to boredom, Hudson thought training would help to keep her cuddly canines busy. She decided that obedience training and instructional programming provided by Therapy Dogs International would be a great way to provide purpose for her dogs while simultaneously allowing her to volunteer her time. Callie has been a certified therapy dog for a number of years, but Max is just a pup and still in training.
Hudson began her dogs’ training at a local canine obedience school and met fellow dog owners with whom she and Callie now travel. The handlers and their four-legged friends provide comfort to and help raise the spirits of those they encounter around mid-Missouri.
They regularly visit Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital, Rusk Rehabilitation Hospital and Boone Hospital Center in the Columbia area, in addition to trips to Moberly Regional Medical Center in Moberly, Mo., and the Callaway County Circuit Court in Fulton, Mo. The group also visits local grade schools and attends Reading with Rover at the Boone County Public Library.
The practice of training therapy dogs began in the 70s when a nurse named Elaine Smith noticed her patients showed improvement when the local pastor would visit and bring his Golden Retriever. Research has shown that canine-assisted therapy can do wonders to improve a person’s mental, physical and emotional well-being. The dogs can reduce anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure and improve morale.
“It’s a great feeling to know you have made a difference in someone’s day or brightened their outlook,” Hudson says.
Dogs, like their owners, have their own preferences for the types of work they perform. Callie, for example, prefers to interact with children.
“I try to let Callie do as much of what she likes best,” Hudson says. “Kids light up when they see Callie enter the room, and she loves them right back.”
While the smiles Callie conjures on the faces of the people she visits is heartwarming to Hudson, it’s sometimes the more subtle reactions that carry the most weight.
“We’ve visited patients with brain injuries, and you will see a spark in their eyes or an uptick in their heart rate when they interact with your dog,” Hudson says. “It’s pretty amazing.”