Foreword: this article is a profile on a local therapy dog and her owner. Please enjoy and know that every therapy dog is different, as is your pup and its possible ability to train as a therapy dog, as well.
Dayna Derichs arrives at work at 7:30 a.m. There are photos from her years in the Peace Corps in the her office, as well as a stash of Diet Coke, tucked away in the media center of Wheeler Elementary School. She’s the school librarian, dedicated to stories and science, coding and kiddos. And so is her dog, Moyo.
Moyo is a 9-year-old black lab/German shorthair mix who wears a red vest and eats baby carrots like nobody’s business. She was named through the native tribal language of Mozambique, where Dayna and her husband, Bastian worked in the Peace Corps. Her name means love.
When Moyo was six months old, Bastian (also an educator) came home raving about a Weimaraner therapy dog he met in the counseling office at work that day. From there, the family found a community in Love on a Leash, a therapy pet organization.
“Moyo earned her position after 8 classes, failing--and then passing-- the Good Citizen Canine Test, and successfully visiting 6 places with other therapy dog teams,” Derichs said. “She milks it for all it's worth. As soon as she puts on her therapy vest, she knows what to do. She calmly follows me, visits people and stays still while dozens of hands stroke her at one time. She snores while leaning on little kids who are reading to her.”
Moyo has been a therapy dog in schools all around Omaha, Nebraska, and does weekend duties at nursing homes and libraries, supporting people left and right with her calm demeanor and silky fur. Most recently and most specifically, though, Moyo is the library mascot.
“Moyo starts school at 7:30, has Monday meetings with the principal, usually helps out with morning announcements and saying the pledge,” Derichs said. “She has two groups of first graders who come to the library to read with her, and she has a fourth grade friend who earns time with her as a reward -- they usually go for a walk around school together. She visits the kids who come to the library for checkout, she hangs with some kids who have special needs before she heads outside for a break and to "do her business". She takes a nap while I do recess duty and then we head to the kindergarten wing for tech time on iPads. While I teach in one room, she roams the other 3 kindergarten rooms to check on kids. When we return to the library, she has a few more 5th grade friends who stop in to read with her before we wrap up our day. She is wiped out on her big fluffy pillow at home by 6!”
Moyo usually only works on Mondays, but in the past, she has also made an appearance at school on Wednesdays, which are shorter days for the school district. Her days are completely full and it is important to keep her well-rested and relaxed in between her “shifts” at school.
Moyo and her owners also have experience working for the school district’s Crisis Team, so if tragedy strikes, she and a group of mental health professionals join together to aid students and faculty members around the city.
“I just love the way Moyo opens up doors with kids and adults,” Derichs said. “The toughest kids have trouble resisting her. She wanders over, puts her head on their laps and they smile a little before petting her. Their worries melt away as they stroke her ears.”
For years, Moyo has provided love and support to kids and adults alike, bribed only by a few small treats and the joy of being needed and loved herself.
As for others who may want to join the world of dog therapy, Derichs said to just dive in.
“Like I said, Moyo failed the test the first time we tried it,” Derichs said. “But we didn't give up. We kept practicing and re-tested. Take a dog class. Get on Love on a Leash's website. Talk with other therapy dog teams. Jump in. If it doesn't work out or your dog doesn't like it, you will know.”
The stars aligned for Dayna, Bastian and Moyo, who have spent their lives helping others. Their careers and family are hallmarked by their constant community engagement and acts of spreading love-- the only distance the length of a leash.