Elaine Smith: A Lifetime of Serving Others

Dog-loving nurse founded Therapy Dogs International, and leaves a wonderful legacy carried on by 24,000 dog/handler teams.

In Memory of Elaine Smith
May 13, 1930 – April 2, 2012

There are not too many people who chose a life of serving others and then, on top of it, found an organization to help others do the same. Founder of Therapy Dog International, Elaine Smith was no ordinary person.Smith passed away peacefully in her home on April 2, surrounded by her three dogs.

A registered nurse, she had already dedicated her life to service, but that just wasn’t enough. In 1976, while observing the positive reaction to a chaplain who brought his Golden Retriever with him on visits, Smith had a thought. A thought that would blossom into the founding of TDI, the world’s first organization dedicated solely to testing, certifying, insuring, and registering dogs for use as therapy animals.

The first official TDI visit took place that very same year in New Jersey. Five handlers and six dogs – all German Shepherds aside from one collie – started a service legacy that would grow to over 24,000 registered dog/handler teams in just 34 years.

During that time, dogs from all walks of life, all sizes, and all breeds, have become therapy dogs. Even dog breeds that have become stereotyped as “vicious” have walked the halls of hospitals with a TDI badge on. In fact, Lexis and Rose, two bully breed mixes, were rehabilitated and adopted by Cydney Cross. Both dogs were awarded theTDI Active Outstanding Volunteer Award, which required dog and handler to participate in at least 150 visits.

While Smith started out in hospitals, the organization has grown, placing therapy dogs wherever they are needed, including assisted living, Children reading to dogs, disaster stress relief, home visits, hospice, hospitals (both children and general), libraries, nursing homes, schools, shelters, and even funeral homes. In 1991, the organization adopted the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test as part of the testing requirements for a potential Therapy Dog.

According to their website, “The future goal for TDI is to continue to bring joy and comfort to those in need, to improve all phases of operations, and to make more TDI dogs available by striving to improve and expand the relationship between TDI, institutions, and individuals in need of emotional service dogs.”

This mission for the future is certainly in line with what Smith set out to do decades ago.

We at DogChannel.com want to take this opportunity to thank every therapy dog/handler team for their service in bettering the lives of others. We are positive that on the other side of the rainbow bridge, Elaine Smith is finding some way to serve others, most likely with a dog at her side.

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