Therapy Dog Visits Bethel Day Program
By some measures, Gromit is 70 years old. He has curly gray-brown hair and a low-key disposition. Despite his lineage, he doesn’t like to swim. But he does love people: greeting them at the door when they arrive home, shaking their hands or giving high fives, and, above all, getting pet by them.
Gromit is a Portuguese Water Dog. Once a month, he visits the Ability Beyond Day Program in Bethel to spend an hour with the people we serve —brightening their days not simply because he is an adorable good boy, but also because he’s a certified therapy dog, trained to provide comfort, companionship, and joy to those who need it most.
“As soon as he gets out of the car, he’s like, ‘We’re here!’ and starts running up to the building,” said Catherine Filiato, Gromit’s owner and handler. They trained together in a 12-week program with Newtown-Strong Therapy Dogs.
When Gromit arrives at Ability Beyond, the excitement is mutual for many of the humans, said our Assistant Service Director Michele Smith.
“I love this dog,” she said. “His presence is calming, and it’s something different for those we serve to participate in. We really just sit and pet. That alone can be so therapeutic.”
Paw-trait of a Therapy Dog
Gromit came to live with Filiato and her family when he was seven years old. He fit right in.
With his sweet, laid-back personality, it was no surprise that Gromit had begun training as a therapy dog with his previous family. Filiato completed the program with him, and their first request for service came from Ability Beyond.
Our mission resonated with Filiato, whose beloved aunt with an intellectual disability passed away a couple of years ago.
“She was great,” Filiato said. “I was very close to her, so the work of Ability Beyond is close to my heart.”
The match has been a “win-win,” Filiato said. Many Day Program participants are thrilled to spend time with Gromit, and the dog, for his part, loves the attention.
Smith said that Gromit also sparks conversation and connection among clients. They talk about their own pets at home, and why they love them. When one participant learned that Gromit has epilepsy, he said, “I have epilepsy, too.”
One Ability Beyond client is especially fond of Gromit: Kristen, a 33-year-old woman from Danbury, who began attending the Day Program about eight years ago.
“We had tried other programs, but she was a young woman being grouped with people in their 60s,” her mother Donna said. “Then we learned about Ability Beyond, where Kristen could spend time with people her age, out in the community enjoying the day. It just seemed like a better situation for her.”
At Ability Beyond, Kristen has expanded her vocabulary through socializing and hands-on experiences. She appreciates having a say in her own schedule, and loves to spend her time bowling, playing basketball, taking field trips, cooking, making arts-and-crafts, and anything related to pets.
Perhaps it’s because Kristen grew up with cats: ragdoll brothers named Hardy and Bradie. Kristen also adored Rusty, her grandmother’s cat. Then Kristen’s grandmother, Donna’s mother, passed away.
“She was super close to Kristen, as she lived with us,” Donna said. “It was a difficult time.”
That’s when Kristen had her first experience with a therapy dog, named Addie, at Immanuel Lutheran Church. Donna noticed that he calmed her sadness. When the family moved to Danbury, Kristen gravitated toward the new neighbor’s black lab, Murphy, petting him to ease her anxiety through all the big changes.
At Ability Beyond, Gromit has provided Kristen with another furry source of peace, relaxation, and delight.
Donna was so moved by her daughter’s connection with dogs that she did something unexpected for a lifelong cat person: she got the family their own emotional support dog. A Bichon Frisé / Toy Poodle mix named Honey. When Kristen comes home from the Day Program, Honey greets her at the door with his tail wagging. At night, he sleeps in her room.
“Dogs have really helped Kristen so much,” Donna said. “What they bring her is unconditional love.”
Visits with therapy animals like Gromit are just some of the many inclusive experiences enjoyed by participants of our day programs in both Connecticut and New York.
“We choose activities that will encourage folks to be engaged and active, gain life and work skills, and develop strong peer relationships,” Smith said.
Find out what you can do today to support our efforts at Ability Beyond to discover, build and celebrate the ability in all.