All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for April 2003

Therapy dog, owner brighten up patients' lives

Apr 6, 2003
Linda Hiller
Reno Gazette-Journal

When 5-foot, 2-inch Sherri Dressler was fully pregnant with 12 pounds and 10 ounces of twin girls, she used a 95-pound canine crutch to help her get up out of chairs in her Dayton home.

“I would call our dog, Titan, and he would come and stand in front of me. Then I would put all my weight on his back and pull myself up,” she said. “He was so patient. He’d just stand there and help me.”

That kind of patience and tolerance is what makes Titan, Dressler’s 5-year-old purebred black Labrador retriever, a perfect therapy dog. For the last three years, Titan and Travis Dressler, Sherri’s husband, have been making the rounds as a registered therapy dog team, bringing an emotional lift to patients at the Carson Rehabilitation Center and other facilities.

“We go from room to room, and I ask each patient if they’d like to visit with my dog,” Travis Dressler said. “They usually say ‘Yes,’ and then I’ll go in with Titan. That’s when I ask them about their own pets.”

Most people are happy to have some diversion, Dressler said, and for some, seeing a furry, four-legged creature like Titan reminds them of home and provides motivation.

“One day we were doing our rounds and the daughter of a patient came up and asked if we’d like to visit her mother in a nearby room,” Dressler said. “When we went in, the mother started crying immediately and said, ‘I can’t believe you’re here! This is exactly what I needed!’ and she just hugged Titan the whole time. She had been missing her own dog.”

Travis Dressler knows firsthand how it feels to watch a loved one struggle to regain his or her health. When he was 9, his father suffered a traumatic brain injury while working as an iron worker. Watching that long road to recovery made an impression on young Travis.

“He had to go through a lot of rehabilitation,” Dressler said of his father, Gary, who lives in Pennsylvania and is still affected by the injury. “He also broke both his legs and had to learn to walk again and I saw the challenges he had to go through, and also how it affected us.”

The Dresslers, both 31, have been married for 10 years and are Douglas High School Class of 1990 sweethearts. Travis Dressler is a special education teacher at the Alternative Education middle school in Carson City and working on his master’s degree in special education at the University of Nevada, Reno. Sherri Dressler left a managerial job at Meeks in Carson City and is staying home with the twins, Marcie and Megan, now 4 months old.

The couple also operates Mirage Labradors, specializing in breeding Labrador retrievers with loving and eager-to-please temperaments. Titan, or “International Champion Bayvue’s Titan of Keystone WC CGC TDI,” is their main stud.

Titan’s path to becoming a therapy dog began when he was 2 years old and Dressler took him to visit the students at Piccolo Special Education School, where he worked as teaching assistant. There, he happened to meet Janet Forrester, founder of the Reno-based Paws for Love pet therapy organization, who gave him information on how to get into the therapy dog program.

“I just think Travis and Sherri are such solid people, and that Titan, what a beautiful dog,” Forrester said. “They’re doing a great job.”

Through the extensive certification process, only one owner can be registered at a time with each dog and both must pass several tests, including the Canine Good Citizen Test, Dressler said. Any dog could potentially be a therapy dog, but Labrador retrievers have been the No. 1 registered dog breed for 13 years, according to the American Kennel Club, and the reason is largely their gentle temperament.

“I always knew that our dogs were special,” Sherri Dressler said. “I wanted to share them with people who were hospitalized and missed their pets. It’s amazing how a dog will always bring a smile to someone’s face. When Travis and Titan got certified in the therapy dog program, I just cried.”

Dressler and Titan then went to work volunteering at the Carson Rehabilitation Center. Patients there are mostly seniors with orthopedic issues including hip fractures and replacements, as well as multiple sclerosis, strokes, Parkinson’s disease and other concerns, said Keri Giomi, one of two recreational therapists there.

“Most of the older people have animals at home, and we immediately see a change in the patients with the therapy dogs,” she said. “They brighten up, talk more, interact more, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that animals love you unconditionally and patients feel that.”

Giomi said Dressler and Titan are a perfect team, with Dressler able to interact well with the patients while Titan remains calm and well behaved, yet loveable. She said she is looking for more teams like them.

“It really does benefit the patients, and it also facilitates more socializing with each other in the group sessions we do,” she said. “Every little bit we do here gets them stronger and closer to going home.”

For more information on pet therapy or Mirage Labradors, call the Dresslers at (775) 246-5732 or visit the Web site,

For information on volunteering at Carson Rehabilitation Center (even without a dog), call Giomi at (775) 881-7108 and Paws for Love at (775) 826-5199 or

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