A furry addition to a gemstone dealer’s family becomes a source of pride and a vehicle for commitment and benevolence
Prakash Vora may have let his son choose Sonya, the golden retriever puppy that his family adopted more than eight years ago, but Sonya has undoubtedly become Vora’s dog.
The Vora family of Vora Gems, a 30-year-old purveyor of loose gems like colored sapphires, decided to enroll Sonya in a nine-week therapy-dog program when she was about a year old. Vora became her trainer to oversee her becoming a certified therapy dog through Pet Prescription, a volunteer organization dedicated to helping pet owners train their dogs to become therapy animals. Some 900 hours of homework—such as training Sonya not to touch food that falls on the floor and acclimating her to lots of human contact—was part of the process.
Sonya as a pup with Prakash Vora of Vora Gems
“The dogs can’t bark in facilities or take anything from patients,” explains Vora. “The training is strict, and I have been with her every step of the way for certifications.”
Sonya has now been working with patients (largely ones with Alzheimer’s disease) for the past five years. Sonya’s job? To help patients improve memory simply with her peaceful presence. Medical personnel prompt patients to recall the dog’s name and age, and once they are able to do so successfully for a period of time, patients are able to be relocated from an Alzheimer’s unit back to a general-population floor—a move that is important for improving the spirits of seniors.
Sonya and her dad
Sonya and Vora at work with other volunteers and therapy dogs
Vora has become so passionate about Sonya, to whom he gives an hour of daily exercise to keep her fit, that he created a website for her—SonyaTherapyDog.com. On the site are lots of photos of Sonya with her pack, a list of all of her certifications—six to date, including some in canine agility—as well as contact information for anyone who wants to know more about getting their own dog involved in pet therapy. With all of Sonya’s accolades and activities to date, she may be the world’s first unofficial ambassador for therapy dogs.
Sonya and Vora at play and agility training
Sonya acing an agility test
“Though golden retrievers like Sonya are smart, any dog could be good therapy dog,” notes Vora.
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