2012-07-12 / News

Inspired by her dog, Jamestowner takes to the airwaves

Wendy Shapiro will discuss her therapy work on RIPR
BY MARGO SULLIVAN


Wendy Shapiro’s dog, Yogi, has been a registered and certified therapy dog for two years. In that time the Pembroke Welsh corgi has logged 350 hours of community service. Wendy Shapiro’s dog, Yogi, has been a registered and certified therapy dog for two years. In that time the Pembroke Welsh corgi has logged 350 hours of community service. Wendy Shapiro of Jamestown has recorded an essay for Rhode Island Public Radio’s “This I Believe” show. The radio program, which can be heard over WRNI, is patterned after a five-minute long 1950s show, which originally aired on the CBS Radio Network.

Shapiro went to the station’s downtown Providence studio recently to record the segment, which will air Wednesday, July 18, at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 5:44 p.m. The piece lasts about 3.5 minutes and describes her work with her therapy dog, Yogi, a purebred Pembroke Welsh corgi.

Shapiro said Yogi accompanies her to eight nursing homes in Middletown and Newport, and to a hospice in North Kingstown. They go to work everyday visiting residents and patients. “He knows it’s his job,” she says.

According to Shapiro, every morning Yogi sits by his leash and waits until he hears Shapiro getting ready to leave home.

Yogi completed special training to become a therapy dog. Shapiro was training him for the show ring when she happened to see an advertisement for the classes. The 7-year-old has been certified and registered for about two years, and has logged 350 hours of community service. In a typical day, Yogi and Shapiro may go to two nursing homes and spend three to four hours with patients.

“I feel this is my life mission,” she said. Shapiro went on to explain that she doesn’t have any plans to stop the visits, even after Yogi achieves all the milestones for therapy dogs.

“It’s very challenging dealing with people on a daily basis,” she said. Many of the patients are ill and dying. Shapiro said most of their patients are people who “choose never to leave their rooms” and don’t participate in the nursing-home activities.

“They are isolated and without family, and they look forward to your visit,” she said. According to Shapiro, Yogi makes an immediate connection with the nursing-home residents and hospice patients. “I think he serves to break down the social barriers.”

“He is so easy going and so gentle, and his comforting presence is just remarkable,” she said. “He brings serenity into the environment. He is so well suited for his job.”

Forest Farm Nursing Home in Middletown named Yogi its volunteer of the year, and he also received a citation from the Middletown councilors. In addition to Forest Farm, Yogi goes to the Middletown’s Grand Islander, Blenheim Newport, and John Clarke Retirement Center, Newport’s Heatherwood and Village House, and North Kingstown’s Beacon Hospice.

He also receives a reward from Shapiro every day. After work she gives Yogi, who was named for Yankees great Yogi Berra, a special treat or biscuit.

Shapiro said the 375 to 400 word essay is supposed to tell about a personal “belief or life experience.” As her topic, she chose how she became interested in doing dog therapy and why I think it’s essential to be actively involved in community service.

Listeners in Jamestown, Newport,

Little Compton and South County can find WNRI at 102.7 FM. (But tune to 88.1 FM in the Greater Providence area or 91.5 FM in Coventry.) People outside the listening area can hear the show online on RIPR.org.

The original show, with host Edward R. Murrow, ran from 1951 to 1955, but 50 years later, National Public Radio revived “This I Believe” and the concept of asking people from all walks of life about their personal philosophies.

NPR ended the series in 2009, but Public Radio International has continued to produce new segments.

Locally, “This I Believe” is produced by Frederic Reamer, who is a Rhode Island College professor of social work and the show’s host. The show has included at least one other islander, Laura Rossi Totten, whose contribution, “Everyday is Mother’s Day,” aired Aug. 10, 2011.

“I was rather intimidated by the whole process,” she said. “They bring you into a studio, and they do a sound check.” The producer asked her to read the piece through once, and then they worked on some suggestions – such as changing the emphasis of a word or pausing longer.

“I was surprised at how calm I was,” she said. “I had prepared it in advance, and once I was doing it, I was OK.”

She said she brought Yogi’s photo along to the studio session for inspiration.

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