Cyndie Kieffer has been a volunteer with the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program since 2002. She holds multiple roles, including as an instructor who helps educate new handlers; a team evaluator who screens therapy animal teams in her community; and a national program educator, training new team evaluators in communities across the country. But the core of her Pet Partners experience has been as a therapy dog handler, working with several partners through the years.
Cyndie is also a licensed clinical social worker and a certified professional practitioner of animal-assisted play therapy, with 20 years of experience. She has combined this professional expertise with her love of dogs, and that experience meshes with her volunteer work as part of Pet Partners.
Cyndie and Jack first became a team in 2014. Jack, a border collie, joined Cyndie’s family in 2012, and she saw him blossom into a compassionate dog with the aptitude to be a therapy animal. Cyndie and Jack visited at nursing homes, in workshops for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and at Deaconess Chancellor Center for Oncology.
Jack also worked alongside Cyndie in her professional activities as an approved play therapy dog and supported her work with her clients. According to Cyndie, “He was an excellent co-therapist.”
But Jack also loved being a happy family dog. He enjoyed shopping trips, snacks, being brushed, and visiting his “girlfriend” Izzy. These enjoyable activities provided down time from his work as a therapy dog and supported his well-being, ensuring that he had a balanced day to day life and could be that much more effective in therapy work.
And that balance and love were important when Jack was diagnosed with cancer. Cyndie wrote a book, Jack the Brave, about dealing with his cancer treatment. This experience provided an additional angle of connection with the people they visited. Cyndie and Jack received an award recognizing their commitment to supporting people going through cancer treatment.
Sadly, Jack’s work ended on June 16, 2021, when he passed away. For Cyndie, his loss is a hole in her world, and the people he visited and worked with will miss him. But he leaves a legacy of commitment and therapeutic impact as big as his happy smile.