Sophie is a yellow Labrador retriever on the small side for her pedigree whose training as a therapy dog has made her a giant with bedridden patients, senior citizens and just about anybody who needs a little companionship and compassion.
Pedeflous said she purchased the puppy for two reasons. At the age of 15, her beloved border collie/ German shepherd mix Phoenix was slowing down. Pedeflous thought a spunky pup eager to learn might have the ability to invigorate her older dog.
She also wanted to train a therapy dog. Since Labradors are highly trainable, Sophie was a perfect candidate for the job.
Pedeflous saw firsthand the power dogs have to heal and bring happiness to patients when her sister, Robin Rodgers, was hospitalized with encephalitis and meningitis.
“I got to know patients and saw not only how they responded to (therapy dogs) but how entire families responded,” Pedeflous said.
Pedeflous got Sophie at the beginning of the year and started training her to be a therapy dog when she was 10 weeks old.
The first lesson for therapy dogs is to learn how to listen to their owners. Sophie learned the command “leave it,” which means that even if a treat is right in front of her nose, she cannot take the food. When Pedeflous tells Sophie, “Okay, take it,” the dog is rewarded with the treat.
At a year old, Sophie has a repertoire of skills and tricks that please patients young and old. When Pedeflous commands her dog to place her paws up, Sophie puts her front paws on the walker or wheelchair of a patient who is ready to pet the dog and receive a little love. The dog has been taught not to touch the body of an elderly person because their thin skin is prone to bruising or cuts.
Pedeflous learned how to train Sophie through Love On a Leash trainer Linda Voller. Love on a Leash is a nonprofit organization established in 1984 in San Diego.
Pedeflous is also training Sophie to work with children with disabilities. The dog has been poked in the eyes, had her ears pulled and her belly prodded in order to help her learn not to react negatively to a child.
“We pulled her around the house by her tail,” Pedeflous said.
The most important aspect of training is to expose therapy dogs to every conceivable experience so they do not bark or react, she said.
Pedeflous said that the first time she brought Sophie to a healthcare center in Westlake Village the dog showed fear at the sight of a wheelchair and barked at person using a walker. She was also afraid of the elevator.
“After that she was okay,” Pedeflous said. “She just needed exposure from the beginning.”
Freda Marsh, a patient at Westlake Health Care Center, said, “Sophie brightens my day and makes me smile.”
Sam Sacks of Oak Park said therapy dogs were helpful to him when he was fighting cancer.
“When I was in the (intensive care unit) for cancer and the dogs came in, it was just so uplifting,” Sacks said. “They made me smile and laugh and temporarily forget my problems.”
Pedeflous routinely brings Sophie to the home of her neighbor Jack Hague, who is dealing with several health issues.
“I love it when (Sophie) comes,” Hague said. “She kisses me and really connects with me. She makes me feel so good.”
Pedeflous said that Sophie elicited belly laughs from a 35-yearold woman with permanent brain damage.
“She was like a 4-year-old walking into a candy store,” Pedeflous said of the woman’s delight at seeing Sophie.
Sophie is learning how to entertain people. She knows how to roll over, perform the army crawl and accept a treat without touching a person’s hand.
Pedeflous is teaching Sophie how to salute with a paw and fall down at the sound of “bang, bang.” Pedeflous said the new tricks are expected to be a crowd pleaser at the Veterans Hospital.