More than just a friend

Therapy dog brings comfort and joy to hospitals and nursing homes

By Todd Travis

Dogs have long been known to be “man’s best friend.” Aspen, a purebred miniature husky owned by Southside resident Steven Litz, takes it a step further and becomes a shining light to nursing home residents in Indianapolis.

Aspen is a certified therapy dog who visits seven different nursing homes across Indianapolis. She helps offer support for residents who need it. According to therapydogs.com, therapy dogs offer many benefits to people they come in contact with. Some of the benefits include:

  • Helping through mental disorders
  • Elevating a person’s mood
  • Fighting off anxiety
  • Helping to regulate emotions
  • Offering social support
Hanging out at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Submitted photos)

There are different kinds of support dogs that have unique requirements and access. These include service dogs, therapy dogs, emotional support dogs and facility dogs. Pawsandthink.org has an informative graphic that can help explain some of those differences for those who are curious.

Aspen was trained from a young age to be a fully off-leash dog. This means she sits, stays and lays down when she is told.

“When we’re walking, she stays next to me. When I stop, I don’t even have to give a command. It’s called an “auto-sit” – she automatically sits when I stop, and when we get to a street corner to look for traffic passing by,” Litz explained.

The journey began for Aspen when she started visiting children at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital about six years ago. While she was at the hospital, a person she was visiting mentioned their mom was in a nursing home and suggested that she go visit her as well. That encounter led her to begin visiting nursing homes as well as a few schools and other organizations.

Aspen with Steven Litz’s daughter’s partner.

“Almost no one in the nursing homes really knows who I am, but EVERYONE knows Aspen,” Litz mentioned.

“People’s faces seem to light up the moment they see her,” he continued.

While many lives have been touched by Aspen’s visit to the nursing home, one story in particular stands out. She had been visiting a patient a few times who was non-verbal. The first few times that Aspen visited, she didn’t even acknowledge that Aspen was there. Over the next couple visits, she began to turn her head toward Aspen and notice that she was there when she came into the room. On the sixth visit, Aspen jumped up onto the patient’s bed and sat at her feet. Unexpectedly, the woman reached out for Aspen, looked up at her aid and said, “she’s so soft.” The aid got tears in her eyes at that moment and said that the woman had not spoken in two years.

Cuddle time with Litz’s wife, Stephanie.

“We were able to take a video of this woman speaking and send it to her family in California to see. It was just so special. But that’s the kind of connection that a dog can have with a person who otherwise hasn’t really had any interaction with other people at all,” Litz said.

Aspen is a high-tech pup. She even has her own website where you can learn more information about her at aspentherapydog.com.