This Car Dealership Drives Therapy Dogs To Folks In Need of Mental Health Support

Four people in orange shirts stand with three therapy dogs.

Most dogs love a car ride: windows down, ears flapping in the wind, their wet noses capturing the scents of the world as it races by.

But sometimes the destination is even more rewarding.

Subaru’s Las Vegas retailer — which was recently recognized company-wide for its dedication to giving back — has added a car-ride-loving component to its showroom: a pack of therapy dogs.

It all started when Subaru of Las Vegas partnered with local charity Michael's Angel Paws, a Nevada-based organization that trains service and therapy support dogs for community members facing physical or emotional challenges. 

This began as a standard corporate charity relationship. After all, Subaru is known for its give-back initiatives under the Subaru Love Promise umbrella. 

One of the pillars of this campaign is “Subaru Loves Pets,” which prompts retailers across the country to connect with animal adoption and rescue groups to increase adoptions and raise funds for animals in need.

Jennifer Vitale, the assistant general manager at Subaru of Las Vegas told Good Good Good that these partnerships are about creating lasting relationships with communities and customers — which means making the showroom dog-friendly, too.

“We welcome all animals into our showroom; we even have a dog park for our four-legged friends, pet beds for them to relax and enjoy, a pet sink, and treats for pets of all sizes,” Vitale told Good Good Good in an email. 

“Watching the interactions in our showroom between dogs, customers, and employees made me realize that dogs provide more than companionship; they show us what real love is and bring indescribable joy to those around them.”

Four people in orange shirts stand with three therapy dogs.
Photo courtesy of Subaru of Las Vegas

Through Subaru’s philanthropic work, the Las Vegas location has raised over $64,000 for Michael’s Angel Paws, but Vitale said the employees — a team of dog lovers themselves — didn’t want to stop there.

“[We] host yearly adoption events to help local shelter pets find loving homes, but the reality is that humans aren’t always the ones doing the saving. Dogs have an innate ability to love unconditionally and provide affection, comfort, and support, which can benefit individuals in settings such as hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, and schools,” Vitale said. 

“I wanted to take the love I witnessed daily on our showroom floor between dog and human and extend that beyond our four walls.” 

With the help of experts at Michael’s Angel Paws, employees volunteered to train their own dogs as therapy dogs

A brown dog wears a graduation cap and therapy dog vest, sitting behind a dog bone-shaped cake
Photo courtesy of Subaru of Las Vegas

Therapy dogs differ from service dogs, which are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act and are trained as a working animal with special skills to specifically serve a handler with a disability. 

Therapy dogs, on the other hand, are pets that are trained to provide affection and support and often volunteer in places like schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.

Still, this requires training. Vitale shared that Subaru employees who wanted to take their pups to the next level committed to weekly training sessions for 25 weeks. 

“Each dog underwent an evaluation with a Michael’s Angel Paws trainer, who identified the best canines for the job based on temperament and ability to follow commands,” Vitale explained. 

“25 weeks and a cumulative 500 hours of training later, we were proud to introduce the Subaru of Las Vegas therapy dog team: Momo, Jambo, Denver, and Frankie.”

A man and a woman sit beside two dogs and hold up diplomas
Photo courtesy of Subaru of Las Vegas

The five dogs have since been on a number of out-of-office expeditions, reading books to children in elementary schools, visiting patients at a local children’s hospital, delivering toys to families in need during the holidays, and connecting with community members at a nearby assisted living facility.

The dogs are also a welcome support system to the Subaru staff, too. Momo (who, yes, has her own entry on the retailer’s Meet Our Team web page) is the go-to source for emotional support in the showroom, Vitale said.

“The impact on the dog owners and our broader team, in general, has been surprising in the best way possible. The automotive industry can be a fast-paced environment that presents its own set of challenges at times,” Vitale said. “Momo brings everyone a smile and has influenced other employees who are dog lovers to inquire about getting their dog therapy-certified, too.” 

Of course, Vitale shared, the most rewarding thing of all is supporting community members through that special human-canine connection. Plus, the therapy dog team has taken the retailer’s commitment to animals and elevated it in a new way.

A man and a woman crouch behind a brown dog, the woman holding up a diploma and smiling
Photo courtesy of Subaru of Las Vegas

This includes microchipping clinics, supporting programs that provide financial assistance to those who cannot afford their dog’s veterinary costs, and funding the training of service dogs for community members with disabilities.

Vitale said: “The therapy dog program has shown us how powerful a dog’s love can be.”

Article Details

July 26, 2023 10:45 AM
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