Saturday, April 12, 2014

Our first Therapy Dog interview with Jack McCoy

One of our purposes at JOY biscuits is to increase awareness of therapy and service dog programs.  

In this interview, Alison Etcheverry, a third grade teacher at Dianne Feinstein Elementary in San Francisco, talks about her therapy dog, Jack McCoy.

Jack is an active therapy dog for the San Francisco SPCA's Animal Assisted Therapy Program.  He's officially part of their "Puppy Dog Tales" program in select SF public schools.  This is the equivalent to being an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts!

1. When did you get Jack?  What’s the story behind his name?
I got Jack when he was 4 and a half months old.  He's from West Oakland, CA.
His full name is Jack McCoy.  He was named after the Sam Waterston character from Law & Order.  He stands for justice.  Plus, just like on the show, Jack is a real ladies man, has an extensive argyle sweater collection, and has the charming "salt and pepper" thing going on!

2. How did you know he would be a great therapy dog?
I knew right away!  I took him home the first day of summer vacation, so I spent the whole summer socializing him.  He was so good with kids in the neighborhood, in the park, wherever we went.  I knew right away I wanted to be able to bring him to my classroom.

3. What organization did you go through?  What was that process like?
We went through the SF SPCA Animal Assisted Therapy Program (AAT).  We had already done all the puppy training, then he had to pass a "temperament" exam.  Next, we did a 6-week course to qualify to be in the AAT program.  Finally, in order to qualify to come to schools, he had to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen exam and do another training to become part of the "Puppy Dog Tales" program.  (He has all the official documents to prove it!)

4. Can you describe what type of therapy work you did together?  What type of facilities/organizations did you go to?
Jack has been a therapy dog for over 6 years now.  We started by going to rest homes/memory centers.  We visited several psychiatric units-UCSF, SF General and most often, the VA.  We also visited ICU's, especially for pediatrics.  Now, our only "official" visit is to Dianne Feinstein Elementary School every Friday.

5. What is your most vivid or favorite memory of how Jack interacts with his “clients”?
I've had a number of really amazing interactions, but a few really stand out.  The first was several years ago, at the Langley Porter Psychiatric unit.  One young man who didn't really engage with the group, lit up when Jack arrived.  When our visit was up, the guy got tears in his eyes and said, "I love Jack, please don't go."  I found out later from the nurse that that was the first time he'd come out of his shell.  

Another more recent incident was Jack's interactions with a kiddo in the Special Day class.  A few months ago, I took Jack outside to go potty.  I noticed a little boy, new to our school, out front.  I could tell that he was agitated and looked like he might run away.  I started talking to him, and eventually, I convinced him to "show Jack his desk," and got him to come back inside, holding Jack's leash.  We've done that a few times now.  But the biggest changes are the kids at the beginning of the year who are "terrified" of Jack, and by the end, can't stay away from him.  He is a true healer!!

6. If you could give advice to someone who is thinking about making their dog a therapy dog, what would you tell them?
I think it is one of the most wonderful and rewarding things in my life!  I would say, although it is a lot of work, it's totally worth it!  It takes a lot of patience, but if you pay attention to your dog, they will show you the way.  I read something once that really encapsulated what it's all about: "Dogs are the bridge between children and adults."  Children really, really, really identify with him.  Jack helps me connect with my students in a deeper and more profound way, beyond words.  He's like a magician!  Kids will do stuff for/because of him that just wouldn't happen otherwise.  One last story:  I left Jack with another teacher a year or two ago.  She had a kid who would only sit still for minutes at a time.  She told me that every time the boy got up she'd say "Jack needs you to sit down & do your work," and he did it!!  She said he did more work that day than any other!

Jack is an Italian Greyhound and is 8 years old.  His favorite activity is running through the grass and chasing his red ball!

Thank you for reading!  

Monday, July 1, 2013


well well well.  you may be wondering why i haven't posted in so long?!

a few months after champ passed away, we bought a cycling tour company, Outfitter Bicycle Tours, then we adopted eddy, and later that year we had a baby!!  2011 was definitely a year of new beginnings...2012 was definitely a year of transition.  now that we're halfway through 2013, i am finding myself in yet another transitional space.  

it has been over 6 months since i have baked JOY biscuits.  but i want you to know that i WILL be baking again soon! 

several months ago i received a weekly smile email from one of my favorite doggie publications the BARK.  here is what i found when i opened the email:

Emmy / Smiling Dog
What’s your dog’s name and age? Emmy, 12 years old.
What was your dog doing when you took this photo? Torturing me with her sweetness while she was waiting patiently for the door to be opened.

Where/how did you find your dog? She was relinquished by her first family after being hit by a car. We were the emergency foster family and the rest is history...

What makes your dog smile? Seeing us after we've been gone, even if it's to get the mail or use the bathroom. Her tail goes around in a huge circle.

Do you and your dog have similar personalities or temperaments? We can get into a pretty dangerous groove of lying around together; I never napped until I had my first greyhound!

Do you do any volunteer work with your dog or on behalf of other companion animals? Emmy has worked at Alzheimer's, mental health and convalescent facilities. She will hop right up on the bed if invited.

Do you and your dog participate in any canine sports? Emmy was quite a successful racer. Now that she's retired, she prefers to run on the beach without worrying about winning.

What do you cherish most about your dog? Feeling her breath on me while she's sleeping, she's just such pure, innocent goodness...

of course, the first thing that caught my eye was that emmy is a greyhound.  when i continued reading i saw that she is ALSO a THERAPY DOG!  what a sweetie.  i love how the BARK features dogs of all breeds and ages.  if you ever want to submit a photo of your smiling furry friend to them, you can!  click here for more info.    thank you for reading!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

new beginnings indeed!!!

well, we have added a new member to our pack! his name is eddy and he comes to us from greyhound friends for life. he is still a pup and unlike champ, has never raced. he LOVES to play with his friends tini and kyo and wants to play with just about every furry friend he meets!

eddy & tini romping at the dog park in north lake tahoe during a road trip.
tini really helped eddy adjust to his new home life away from the kennel.

eddy & kyo having a play session at the ballfield near our place.
these boys like to play rough and are way TOO CUTE!!

around last thanksgiving (about a month after champ passed away), i started looking online for dogs on we weren't feeling anywhere close to being ready for a new dog, but we knew that our family wasn't complete without one. when i would look at the GFFL website way back in november, eddy (formerly known as "purkey"), was available. after months of looking at various resources and discussing timing, logistics, and all that other stuff, purkey was still available! we decided to go meet then-purkey and 3 weeks later we brought eddy home! needless to say, we are quite smitten with him, oh and he loves JOY biscuits!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

new beginnings with the same purpose

happy spring and new beginnings to you! i love this season and the new growth it brings. the air hung with sweet floral scents and longer days full of sunlight make me smile deep from within. yes, JOY biscuits is still creating happiness in a wholesome dog treat with organic and locally-sourced ingredients for your furry friends!

so how have we been since our last post?! well, baking JOY biscuits without champ patiently waiting to perform his QC duties has been a challenge and a learning experience. the first batch i baked without him hit harder than anticipated. after that batch, baking has been getting more enjoyable, especially in the company of furry friends (thank you kyo and stella!). grieving is not a linear process and riding that wave can be difficult. however, i know that with every end of something comes the opportunity for new beginnings!
riding the wave, i have had time to re-evaluate the purpose and intention behind JOY biscuits. providing an artisanal dog treat with flavors that are nutritionally beneficial continues to be one of our main purposes. additionally, our intention and mission still remain the same: to provide a sustainable dog treat that targets optimum dog health and to increase awareness of service and therapy dog programs.

what kind of new beginnings are you and your furry friend experiencing this spring? is your daily, weekly, monthly purpose and intention the same as it was before or is it different?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

pack of 3, now a pack of 2

my heart aches as i try to put words together for this post. in fact, i wasn't even going to post this. but yesterday it became obvious to me, i knew i just had part of the healing process and as a tribute to CHAMP, the very inspiration behind JOY biscuits.

1 week ago today........champy passed away.

i'm slowly picking up the pieces of what life was like with him and trying to put them back together in a way so that i can move forward. the overwhelming feeling of sadness and loss is gradually giving way to fond memories of champ and what truly made him such a sweet good dog. (he was SUCH a good boy.)

my husband and i put together an email we sent out to our family and friends who knew champ, which i will copy below. the transition back to a pack of 2 is very difficult as it's even hard to imagine what we were like before champ came into our lives. as the days pass without going through the daily routines with champ, petting his soft belly, and the spontaneous outings and walks, one thing is clear: JOY biscuits is not only what champ inspired for us, but it has now become champ's legacy.

Dear Friends and Family,

Almost 2 years ago a retired racer came into our lives and found his way into our hearts. Champ was definitely a looker, and a conversation starter ("He's a greyhound not a whippet. Yes, he used to race. Champ's markings? It's called blonde brindle."). His gentle temperament and soft fur left a strong impression on many.

As many of you know, our boy Champ started acting not like himself in late September. The three of us started an intense journey that ended this past Sunday evening. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, he succumbed to lymphoma, which buried itself in his spinal cord and bone marrow. His passing, here at home, was incredibly peaceful and serene. The look in his eyes that morning let us know it was time to let him go...this was undoubtedly a very difficult decision to make.

After a warm sunny fall day of enjoying time together, feeding him his favorite foods (including JOY biscuits and even some rabbit) and relaxing outside, we sent him on his way. Joy and I can both say that he was probably the most relaxed and peaceful one in the room. He just knew...he was a true champ, in so many ways.

Joy and I were lucky to have had 1 year 9 months and 7 days with him. He came into our world as a hardened racer with a stoic persona, a stellar on-track record, and always looking for a job to do. He left us as a loving family dog that wanted to do nothing more than to please us. He was highly intelligent, but rather than just knowing how to out-maneuver other dogs on the track, he learned and accumulated a library of tricks that he could and would do at any time. All he wanted in return was a pet or a treat.

We'll never forget his soft fur and ears, his propeller tail and how it wagged more and more with time, how he learned to play with his toys and do 180 and 360 degree jump turns in our main room, and how he learned to sniff smaller dogs (as opposed to putting them in his mouth). He literally made our jaws drop when he "opened up" and ran super super fast (faster than what we thought was his fastest) kicking up dirt and dust on us at the horse corral up in Marin. Champ knew what to expect from the person behind the counter at any pet shop, how to pay close attention to the kitchen floor when we were cooking, and how to "counter sniff" instead of counter surfing. Something I know we miss dearly is how he loved to give and receive affection.

During the journey of the past month and a half we bonded with one another and many of our friends more than we could have ever expected. Champ was a very compliant and patient patient, trusting us every step of the way. We can't thank enough the vets that worked with us. Also, thank you to all who visited with Champ, raising his spirits and giving him a distraction from his pain. Your support has lifted us up in ways that are invaluable to us. Additionally, thanks to those of you who welcomed him into your homes and your hearts.

The lessons Champ taught us, such as living in the moment and loving unconditionally, remind us of what is really important in life. We are grateful that he let us into his life as his proud parents, even if only for a short period. We miss our sweet handsome boy. Champ will always be a part of us.

Carpe Diem,

Jamie & Joy

Thursday, August 26, 2010

JOY biscuits loves therapy dogs and service dogs

one of our missions at JOY biscuits is to increase awareness of therapy and service dog programs. we all know that dogs are wonderful companions and that one's quality of life is greatly increased when one has a furry friend in their life, however the distinction between a therapy dog and a service dog is important.

generally speaking, both types of dogs have similar outcomes: to increase quality of life, increase independence, and ultimately enable a person to participate more in their daily activities.

so what exactly is the difference between a service dog and a therapy dog??

service dogs are specifically trained to assist in meeting the needs of a person with a disability who may have limitations related to mobility and/or mental health. service dogs are legally defined by the americans with disabilities act of 1990 and are protected by federal laws that enable them to accompany their owners into public places where dogs-as-pets are not allowed. i've seen service dogs do amazing things like open doors, dial 911, pick up small pills off the ground with their teeth, and turn lights on and off. these dogs have a very important job, no doubt.

service dogs are also known as guide dogs, skilled companions, and hearing dogs. with organizations like CCI (canine companions for independence), and other service dog programs, people with disabilities have more access to participating in their communities, which is something that JOY biscuits cares very deeply about.

one thing to remember though (as it was difficult for me to learn how to do this), is that these dogs have a job and that they aren't necessarily "pets." so talk to the owner first (make eye contact with the owner, not the dog-i know, hard to do!) and ask them if it's OK to greet the dog before assuming that you can. if it is ok, then the owner can "release" the dog from their work before you pet them. if it's not OK, simply talk to the owner (mention what a beautiful day it is!) or just walk away. in either case, all parties will be enlightened and the service dog and owner will appreciate your mindful actions. you will be able to recognize a service dog by a vest or a badge that indicates that it is indeed a service dog. here are some pictures of service dogs in action!

a therapy dog, is exactly what it sounds like. a dog that provides a therapeutic experience to those who interact with it. geez, given that definition all dogs could be therapy dogs, right?! nope. therapy dogs must go through a vet check, discipline/obedience course and evaluation, and be affiliated with a group that organizes visits to hospitals, clinics, and facilities. in fact, most domesticated pets can become a therapy animal, and organizations like furry friends pet assisted therapy services assist with this process. here are some touching stories of strays becoming therapy dogs.

i have seen therapy dogs work in multiple ways. some examples include: having the client brush the dog to increase their strength and range of motion in their arms; having the client direct the dog to do certain tricks, thus having the client work on giving commands and praise when executed well; and lastly having the client walk the dog a few feet initially and gradually increase the distance over time, thus working on strength and endurance. here are some pictures of therapy dogs in action!

ok, 2 more items worth mentioning: 1) champ, the inspiration behind JOY biscuits, is on his way to becoming a certified therapy dog. in fact, i made that one of our new year's resolutions. now i just need to make the time to do it! 2) there is yet another article worth mentioning in the august/september issue of animal wellness. this article illustrates a good picture of what to consider when getting a dog for someone with a disability (and not necessarily a service dog), and what breeds are good for certain purposes. it also mentions some amazing jobs of what different types of service dogs can do, like detecting when a person with type 1 diabetes has a severely low blood sugar level by smelling their breath, and then somehow indicating that the person needs to drink juice or eat. what the article doesn't mention is where to go to find a service dog. i would recommend CCI, but also know that there are smaller organizations that train and provide service dogs. a lot of figuring out where to go for a service dog depends on one's location and what feels like a good fit with one's needs.

i hope this post clearly distinguishes the differences between service and therapy dogs. if you've made it this far to the end of the post, i sincerely thank you for reading, as this means a lot to JOY biscuits.

Friday, July 9, 2010

and now introducing...the JOY biscuits café line

ohhhh baby, yes those are large JOY biscuits! bigger isn't always better, but when you're on the run and your dog has been especially good, they deserve an extra special treat. let's face it, when you treat yourself to your favorite caffeinated drink, cupcake, or cocktail, you want to share the experience with your furry friends, right? thus the JOY biscuits café line was born! these JOY biscuits are made with the same wholesome ingredients that the original biscuits are made with and are packed in a compostable baggy.

the café line packages come in 1 large biscuit and 2 medium sized biscuits. you can find the JOY biscuits café line at that takes the cake, cheengoo, george, and jeffrey's. our plan is to have them available at your local dog-friendly coffee shop, bike shop, winery, restaurant, b&b, hotel, you name it! we're super excited to introduce this new line of larger JOY biscuits to you!