Ali’s golden helpers
Golden retrievers Jackson and Alta (Rachel Bevan)
Gallery: Ali’s golden helpers [3 Images] Click any image to expand.
Their noses are cold, feet are furry and hearts warm and welcoming. Jackson and Alta are therapy dogs for Intermountain Therapy Animals and their love for that work comes naturally.
“Jackson gets very excited the moment I get the bag out and put his ITA scarf on. I know some people don’t believe dogs smile, but he has a huge smile when working with the kids,” Ali Barnes said of her eight-year-old golden retriever.
Both retrievers Jackson and Alta work at Primary Children’s Residential Treatment Center.
“Jackson does play-therapy. We go into a gym and the kids play fetch, hide-and-go seek and do tricks with him. They learn about taking turns and work on social skills while having fun. Alta and I go once a week to read with the kids,” Barnes said.
That reading is part of R.E.A.D (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) and was developed by Intermountain Therapy Animals to help children with literacy in a unique way.
“Alta is also very eager to get in the door and see the kids. When the kids read to her she settles down and often puts her head in their laps as they read,” Barnes said.
Barnes’ desire to volunteer with Jackson and Alta came as naturally as her childhood love for animals.
“When I was nine or 10 we adopted my uncle’s dog when he and his family had to move to Thailand. That dog was the sweetest dog and we all fell in love with her. When she died, I knew I had to have a dog in my life. After I married, my husband gave me our first golden retriever to keep me company,” Barnes said. They now have their fifth golden retriever.
Over the years each of those retrievers have been loved enormously and included as members in the Barnes family. Each retriever, like the family that owned them, was compassionate, fun and kind —characteristics essential for the work they do.
“Jackson and Alta love people. They are patient and seem to sense what mood you are in and what you need. Dogs don’t care how you’re dressed, what your education level is, or how much money you make. They are just the embodiment of unconditional love,” Barnes said.
Through Jackson and Alta’s love, moments of healing and kindness are created often for Barnes to see. One of her most touching moments occurred at the Huntsman Cancer Institute with her first therapy dog, Oakley. A mother requested that she and Oakley visit her dying son.
“Oakley and I came to the side of his bed and the young man’s mom put his hand on the dog’s head and told him there was a dog here to visit him. The family just talked about their dog for a few minutes, and then we left. I felt so honored that they would allow us into the room during this difficult time of their loved ones passing. Oakley brought them some comfort and peace and was a reminder of wonderful family memories,” Barnes said.
Because of that example and others, Karen Burns, assistant director of Intermountain Therapy Animals, appreciates Ali, her dogs and their eight years of volunteering.
“Ali goes above and beyond in her volunteer work. She is one of our volunteers that work quietly and professionally and are committed to their work. If Ali sees a need she will jump in and help with anything. She, Jackson and Alta have made a difference for so many people and are a bright spot in someone’s day whether that be visiting at hospitals or reading with kids. They are a pure joy to all that meet them,” Burns said.
Despite credit that is undoubtedly hers, Ali gives it to her dogs.
“I don’t really feel like I have done the service,” Barnes said. “I’m just the person who holds the end of the leash.”