Kathleen Bechtel’s decisions to adopt a Boxer/Pit mix puppy and later become an AIR Dogs: Paws for Minds Therapy team both came from the heart.
Kathleen had waited more than 2 years after her dog died to consider looking for a new companion. Upon her first look at the Bella Reed Pit Bull rescue website and seeing a new litter available for adoption – and in particular a cute black pup – she still wasn’t sure she was ready. However, she couldn’t stop thinking about that little black puppy, and it wasn’t long before she submitted an adoption application.
“Something kept speaking to me,” she recalled. “Something just pulled at my heartstrings to go after that puppy.”
It had been several years since Kathleen had been a pet therapy team, but again, her heart spoke to her after talking to Tricia.
“Meeting Tricia and Kaitlyn Baker, I heard about the organization and their mission. I felt a passion to get involved,” said Kathleen. “We just do not know what people are going through in life and mental well being is just as important as physical. If Cider can help people by bringing happiness it has made my day.”
“I’ve worked with mental illness in the hospital. Sometimes those patients can fall through the cracks,” said Kathleen, BSN, RN, who recently became a home care nurse for Meridian Health Care system.
Since Kathleen and Cider were certified last summer, they have visited Artis Senior Living of Princeton Junction, one of AIR’s weekly programs, and special visits to The College of New Jersey and West Windsor Plainsboro High School.
“I enjoy doing work in the community with my dog and she has a sweet, loving, happy personality,” she said.
Cider, who celebrated her second birthday this past December, loves everything and everyone, according to Kathleen.
However, she still has a few favorites. She loves playing with her tug toys and her treats of choice include cheese sticks, sweet potatoes and hot dogs.
She also has her favorite place: laying across the pillows at the top of Mommy’s bed and looking out the window.
Several months ago, Kathleen and Cider were staying at a long-term hotel until they could move to their new home in Robbinsville. The pair was relaxing in a common area and had gotten to know a teenager who was staying there with her mom and brother; the parents were separated.
“You know, a lot of times I don’t even want to get out of bed because of my depression, but seeing Cider makes me happy,” the girl told Kathleen during one of their times together.
Eventually, it was time to go their separate ways, but the girl received one of Cider’s AIR All Star cards, which includes information about AIR’s mission and resources.
So far, that has been one of Kathleen’s more remarkable experiences as a therapy team with Cider, showing just how much AIR therapy dogs can benefit people, even those met by coincidence.
“She’s calm but she exudes happiness and joy,” said Kathleen. She’s just the perfect dog to help with this kind of therapy.”
AIR is a Princeton, NJ based nonprofit organization dedicated to educating youth and adults about mental health, related disorders and suicide prevention. AIR Dogs: Paws for Minds comprises certified therapy dogs and their handlers, who visit schools and other venues for fun, mental health and crisis situations. AIR’s programs, from elementary school to college age, have reached more than 75,000 students in 8 states. They also offer AIR Lunch and Learn for businesses.