Lola the Therapy Dog loves to help people. Therapy dogs do wonderful work for people who are in hospitals, senior care centers and other locations. One such therapy dog is Lola, a five-pound Yorkie who has a special fondness for children. Lola is a certified therapy dog who tours the country visiting with autistic children mostly–and she also has a book series that helps ALL children navigate through life’s obstacles and what they perceive to be “scary”– such as visiting the doctor, the first day of school, etc… Lola’s books are aimed at teaching all kids about these obstacles and how to overcome them.
Lola and her owner, Marcia Goldman, have fun helping kids deal with obstacles and challenges. The latest book—“Lola’s Teddy Bear”—was released in July. Marcia Goldman has her Master’s Degree in Special Education and has spent the last 25 years focusing on providing therapeutic-based programs for children with autism and their families. She tours the country with Lola and the books are featured in hundreds of libraries and stores nationwide. The books are aimed at helping all children navigate through various stressful scenarios. To date, the books in the series include:
Lola currently resides in California with her adoring owners. She is a proud certified therapy dog who makes weekly visits to elder care centers, bookstores and classrooms. She happily participated in the making of these books with her human mommy, Marcia Goldman. Marcia has her Master’s Degree in Special Education and has spent the last 30 years focusing on providing therapeutic-based programs for children with autism and their families.
Recently, via an exclusive interview, Marcia discussed her experiences working with Lola and her hopes for the future:
Meagan Meehan (M.M.): How did you and Lola find each other?
Marcia Goldman (M.G.): I was attending a party and people kept coming up to the woman I was talking to and asking her how her puppies were. Her response was that they were too young, might not survive and didn’t want to talk about them. I finally asked, what kind of puppies are we NOT talking about? Her answer, Yorkshire Terriers. She had one female and one male and I heard myself say, IF they survive I would like the female. I really didn’t need another pet, with one large chocolate lab and three cats at home, but when she called me several weeks later to say the female was mine, I rushed over to meet her and instantly fell in love.
M.M.: When did you decide to make Lola a therapy dog?
M.G.: It happened during a quiet lunch with a friend over a discussion about meaningfully filling one’s time. She shared with me her favorite activity, which was visiting schools and summer camps with her black lab, Jake. Jake is a therapy dog, and it sounded like Jake did all of the work while my friend tagged along. I knew about therapy dogs, but I didn’t know if only certain breeds were used or how one became trained and qualified. I asked a few questions, and as my friend talked about the work they did together, I had an epiphany. I love my dog, I spent 30 years as a special education teacher, and if I combined the two, what better way to legitimize spending all day with my dog?
M.M.: Why did you start your children’s book series? What was the process of finding a publisher like?
M.G.: Lola and I initially started by visiting a preschool program for children with Autism. She and I would greet the children during circle time, and then I would read to them. I realized how much more impactful it would be for the children if they heard a story about the dog that was right in front of them. I searched on-line and in bookstores, but I couldn’t find anything that had a dog that looked like Lola. I also knew that, for young children on the spectrum, photographs would be more meaningful than illustrations. I decided to create my own book! I had never written a story book, nor was I very good with a camera, but the children were my inspiration and Lola was a willing participant, with a little help from doggie treats and string cheese. It started out as a home project, but with guidance and encouragement, the original plan turned into a wonderful writing adventure for both of us. I was very lucky to have found my publisher. A friend and colleague had seen my first books in the autism classroom and suggested them to her sister, Marissa Moss, a renowned children’s author who had recently decided to start a small publishing company, Creston Books. I am so grateful to her for believing in the power of Lola’s stories and being willing to take a risk on a first-time author!
M.M.: In the most recent book, we are introduced to Lola’s stuffed toy, Bear. So, does she really have a strong bond with her and were the events in the book based on real life?
M.G.: It is a true story! One of Lola’s first toys was this squeaky little bear. She had plenty of other toys, but Bear has always been her favorite. Other toys might be ignored or chewed up, but never Bear. Bear gets carried in her mouth wherever she goes. When she sleeps, Bear is always close by, in her mouth or snuggled up against her face. Bear has also become the object of many games. Lola hides Bear, in a shoe or behind pillows, and then leads us to try and find Bear. She points her nose in the direction we should look or stands next to the hiding place until we find Bear. Other times she holds Bear in her mouth and runs and wants to be chased. One night we couldn’t find Bear. Lola kept running around the house looking for her and no other toy would suffice. The next morning, I found Bear on the lawn and she was soaked from the sprinklers, no longer fluffy and no squeak! But Lola didn’t care. She grabbed Bear from my hands and carried her in her mouth to her bed, curled up and fell happily asleep. After that, I realized she loved her little bear no matter what shape she was in, but now I keep a stockpile of extra bears in a drawer just in case!
M.M.: To date, what has been the most rewarding experience involving your work with Lola?
M.G.: Lola loves being a therapy dog and as soon as I tell her it’s time for work, she is eager to get her scarf on and head to the car. I have seen the power of therapy dogs as she cuddles in the lap of someone in a wheelchair, calms an anxious child with autism, or encourages a child who is unwilling to read aloud, to do so to one small dog. Just to see her bring a smile to an elderly person’s face is a wonder to behold. Her work in the autism classrooms has shown her uncanny ability to understand the emotional needs of others and I have witnessed a child who doesn’t talk, to speak aloud to Lola. One day, I received a letter from a parent whose child had been quite reluctant to pet Lola, but over the few months of our visits, had willingly joined the circle and engaged with her. This family’s other child loved the petting zoo, but the family had never been able to go together because their child on the spectrum was terrified. After hearing him talk about petting Lola in class, they decided to see what would happen if they took him to the zoo. It was a success, he was no longer afraid, and, for the first time, they were able to go as a family.
I know that Lola loves what she does, but the real secret is, so do I. She may be the one doing the work, but I am the one that gets to go with her. And my life is richer for it.
M.M.: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to make their pet a therapy animal?
M.G.: There was initial concern that she was too small, and that her small dog temperament, possibly being nervous around strangers, might not be a good fit. I assured everyone that although Lola was small, she didn’t know it. And she loved people – big, small, young, old, she was always happy to meet someone new. She also seemed to intuitively know when someone needed an extra lick or cuddle. The training to become a therapy dog was not quick or easy. Lola had to go through two levels of obedience school, handle the Canine Good Citizenship test, and then pass the behavior screening. Throughout the process, Lola and I were warned that she might not succeed. But we were both determined, and as we approached the final test, I was confident that I had a star pupil and that she would make it with flying colors. And pass she did. My advice to anyone considering going through this process, do it and you will be glad you did!
M.M.: Are there any upcoming projects and/or events that you would like to mention?
M.G.: Lola and I will be spending the Fall signing books and presenting at various conferences across the country. She is a good traveler and enjoys meeting new people. We will continue to make our weekly visits to Elder Care centers and classrooms, as well as bookstores.
You can find us on FB at LolaTheTherapyDog or marcia.com.16 and on Instagram at lola_thetherapydog
The latest curriculum guides can be found on the website www.marciagoldman.com
Fun Fact #1: If you look very carefully in each book, you will find the preceding book in the background of one of the pages.
Fun Fact #2: See if you can find Bear in two of the other Lola books
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To learn more, visit Lola and Marcia’s official website. She can also be followed on social media through the tag “LolaTheTherapyDog.” She can be emailed via email@example.com
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Meagan J. Meehan is a published author, poet, cartoonist, and produced playwright. She pens columns for the Great South Bay Magazine, Blasting News, and Entertainment Vine. She is also a stop-motion animator and an award-winning abstract artist. Meagan holds a BA in English Literature and a MA in Communication. She is also an animal advocate and a fledging toy and game designer.
Meagan is a contributing editor to Kidskintha writing on Toys, Games, Entertainment, and other topics that are happy and fun!