How does the power of the presence of a dog increase your strength?

I am honored to be the human end of the leash of not only one therapy animal, but two. 

Kilo, a 10-year-old yellow Labrador and Jetty, a 3-year-old brown Standard Poodle have been registered Pet Partners therapy animals for just over 2 years. We have volunteered as a team in the hospital environment, home health, in the classroom, and at Powerlifting meets. 

My passion for strength training and my love of dogs came together. After a lot of training, not only formal dog classes, but handler classes too, we developed into a Therapy Animal Team.

Years ago, when Mike and I opened our first Kilo’s Gym (Kilo was just 8 weeks old), I knew what the power of a dog present in the gym could make. Having him there while I trained for meets, giving me a lick of ‘Puppy Power’ not only made me smile, but it calmed my nerves and increased my confidence for my lift. As I was ending a training cycle and getting closer to a Powerlifting competition, my connection with Kilo became stronger. We had a gym ritual- After my bench shirt/squat suit/deadlift suit was on, wrist wraps cranked up tight, and right before I latched my belt, I’d hold out my palm and he’d give it a lick- (the) Bars’ ready! Ever have that training partner that just knew what to say or do to get you going?

I noticed all the lifters in the gym giving him a belly rub, head pat, or just talking to him throughout their workout and I could see the smiles that would form on their faces (yes, Kilo’s too).  I knew others could benefit from this powerful emotion and I had to share the positive effect dogs have on well-being with others.

Kilo and Jetty provide physical, psychological, and emotional benefits to people of all ages in a variety of environments. They have been evaluated on their ability to safely interact with a wide range of situations, and I am trained to ensure effective interactions that support animal and human well-being. Being an emergency room and pre/post-operative nurse has given me the experience and knowledge to help people in emotional, high-stress situations. Together, the therapy animal and the handler are there to support the patient/child/athlete in whatever capacity they need at that moment. This can be demonstrated by providing comfort as a quiet supporter or even doing silly pet tricks (both dogs have their American Kennel Club Trick Dog titles).

As a therapy animal handler, I know the strengths and weakness of both of my therapy dogs. Being able to read their body language and having a positive, communicative relationship is key to being an effective team. One commonality both dogs share is the excitement of going to a Powerlifting meet.  They love the quick ‘hello’s’ as they greet each lifter to the ‘let me lay down next to you while you focus’ moments. There have been plenty of instances of hugging, ball playing and selfies in the warm-up room. You know what’s always in the warm-up room in your gym bag? SNACKS! They are quite the detectives and gravitate to those that left crumbs behind. There have been lifters that have laid on the floor with them and children that have played with them on their dog bed behind the Lifting Large booth. Some PDX Barbell Club members have Kilo and Jetty’s therapy dog trading cards on their refrigerator too. 

Kilo and Jetty join us on every possible Lifting Large booth sale. When Mike and I discuss setting up a booth at an event, my criteria is:  Can the dogs come?  Sometimes, the first question a lifter asks when approaching the booth is “Where’s the dogs?”. It’s a pretty amazing feeling to know that they have made a positive impact on a lifters’ meet day.

Kilo and Jetty have grown up at the Lifting Large warehouse and we’re basically raised at Kilo’s Gym. They are used to a lot of people, loud cheering, banging of plates, and dead-lifts being dropped. We have a treadmill in the gym and only the dogs get on it (Powerlifters don’t do cardio!). Frequently they’ll sleep on it or just stand on it ready for someone to start it up (turning on the treadmill is like turning on a dog treat dispenser). Both dogs have had years of formal training and hold about a dozen combined American Kennel Club titles. No, all these dog classes, certificates and titles are not required to have a registered therapy animal. I want my dogs to have as much exposure to many different training opportunities to be versatile, well-adjusted teammates (and I’m a bit of an over-achiever).

Kilo and Jetty have attended approximately 7 Powerlifting meets in the Oregon/Washington area. Thank you to the meet directors of USAPL and USPA for letting us visit. 

If you’ve met Kilo and Jetty at a meet, I hope we were able to make you smile and bring you a bit of peace and a whole lot of power.

Like many others that share a passion for volunteering, I have been blessed to witness first-hand, the compassion and deep sense of completeness of being a therapy animal handler. Never underestimate the power of a dog.