Daphne, the therapy dog, giving a woman a kiss. (Courtesy/ Rhonda Herbert)

When Rhonda Herbert visited her ailing father in an assisted living facility with her dog, Daphne, she witnessed the comfort and smiles Daphne brought to the residents and staff.

As a puppy, Daphne sat through hourlong music therapy sessions in Herbert’s lap, leaving people amazed that she was so calm.

“That’s when I made the decision to become pet therapy team,” she said.

As part of a pet therapy team, Herbert wants to extend comfort and companionship to people in end-of-life care, the hospital or isolated seniors.

Herbert has a quote that keeps her motivated to show up week after week when she volunteers with Daphne.

The quote is from author Bruce Perry, “Love is the most powerful agent of change and relationships are the agent of change and the most powerful therapy is love.”

The words resonate with Herbert because she’s seen the power of love in her life and the difference the people around her have made as she went through tough times.

Herbert retired in 2019 after teaching physical education for 30 years at Myers Elementary School and another six years at St. Jospeh’s before that.

She retired to care for her ailing father. At the same time, she was grappling with losing her identity as a teacher and being an empty nester.

“I needed something to nurture and give back and take care of and have a purpose,” she said.

Herbert went to the coast one weekend in September 2019 and was at an outdoor market when she saw a woman with a sheepadoodle. She didn’t know what kind of dog it was, so she asked and took pictures.

Sheepadoodles are a cross between an Old English sheepdog and a poodle.

“I came home and said, ‘This is the next dog we’re going to get,’” she recalled telling her husband.

Two years ago, Herbert’s husband was able to find a breeder in Dallas that had just had a litter.

They got Daphne.

Herbert’s father was on hospice in an assisted living facility at the time, and the pair began visiting him.

The went through several training courses to prepare to provide pet therapy. Herbert said Daphne had to earn her Canine Good Citizen certification to qualify. The test requires a dog and handler to perform 10 skills, including staying in place, coming when called and allowing strangers to pet them.

They registered with Pet Partners, a national pet therapy organization.

Herbert said the training was rigorous and afterwards they felt totally prepared to start their work.

Each week, Daphne and Herbert volunteer for Willamette Valley Hospice.

Herbert said people on hospice get a serene look on their face when they see Daphne, like she’s awakened something in their soul only a dog can.

“I can’t explain it. I’ve witnessed it over and over again,” she said.

Herbert said they’ll forget about any pain they’re in and totally focus on Daphne.

Daphne is trained not to kiss unless she’s asked. If people want a kiss, Hebert will say, “Yes, Daphne kiss kiss” and the dog will give them a gentle kiss on the cheek.

She said it’s not only beneficial for patients, but also for family members.

“It gets them out of their reality, their sadness or whatever they're going through. It’s just a good thing,” she said.

Herbert drives to Independence to visit a woman on hospice who she said gets instantly giddy when Daphne shows up and calls the dog into her lap.

Herbert recently printed and framed a picture of the pair. She said the woman carries it around on her walker.

The joy and gratification are “so obvious” Herbert said.

Herbert said the adjective most used to describe Daphne is “sweet.”

She said she’s also smart, athletic and intuitive. She knows when someone is having a bad day and lays at their feet. The Herberts have another sheepadoodle named Daisy from the same breeder that’s a little younger than Daphne.

Daphne’s favorite activities include catching frisbees, chasing a remote-control car, swimming and finding sticks.

Herbert said she puts her through other activities like barn hunting and agility to keep her mind active.

“She just needs to be exposed to all the different places so that she can to be a good therapy dog,” she said.

The pair also volunteer at Center 50+ and Salem Hospital.

Before they started volunteering, Herbert said Daphne was her therapy dog too.

“She filled a need and a hole so big it was amazing. I wanted to share that with other people,” she said.

Rhonda and Daphne. (Courtesy/Rhonda Herbert)

Daphne, the therapy dog, giving a staff member a kiss. (Courtesy/ Rhonda Herbert)

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] 

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