TODAY

TODAY   |  June 25, 2013

Therapy dog brings comfort to nursing home residents

With her husband often away on long trips and her daughter off to college, Sue Halpern decided to take on a new challenge: getting her dog, Pransky, trained as a therapy dog. Now she and Pransky volunteer weekly, bringing canine comfort to nursing home residents. NBC’s Jane Pauley reports.

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>> with her husband off and along on long trips and her daughter off to college, it was time to reimagine two lives. hers and her dogs.

>> my dog needed a job. dogs are social i think. they're pack animals and her pack had gotten progressively smaller until it was a pack of one.

>> and both of them needed something new to do.

>> there comes a point in lives when you're shaken out of your routine.

>> and suddenly there's a thing in front of you and it's just called time. it's like a gift and you get to choose what you do with it. i was interested in seeing if i could do something that i had never done before.

>> sue had an idea in the back of her head and they could do it together.

>> i knew that what she really would thrive on was interacting with other people. a nursing home or a hospital or hospice, those all seem like really good places for such a dog.

>> reporter: but to be a certified therapy dog , he would have to pass a test. 15 different tasks.

>> no pulling on a leash. no straining, no wining, no barking. if you fail any part of the exam, you're done.

>> reporter: but pransky is a country girl . she had never even been on a leash.

>> i was convinced we were going to fail but i was committed to trying.

>> sit down all the way.

>> you can't get a c and pass.

>> you have to get an a. i came up with this plan to get the dog really tired before the test.

>> and she passed with flying colors . then came the real test.

>> were you as good at it alt first as pransky was?

>> no, she was much better than i was.

>> would you describe that as out of your comfort zone .

>> i would describe it as a lot out of my comfort zone .

>> but she was a natural.

>> she was just intuitive that that's what she was supposed to be doing. she lets them do whatever it is they're going to do.

>> spreading joy looks easy, but it's exhausting work for her.

>> because she has to pay attention. she is always looking to me to like guidance.

>> like a dance team .

>> it is a little bit like a dance team . particularly when we're in that setting where there's a lot of really frail people.

>> pransky's job is just one two hour shift a week leaving sue time to work. she wrote a book. a dog walks into a nursing home .

>> what is the value to a person of three or five minute of dog time a week?

>> they're getting this kind of warm feeling. this feeling of connectedness. this feeling of joy which is unexpected.

>> while at the other end of the leash --

>> there are studies that show that your life expectancy , it gets longer if you volunteer.

>> experts say as much as four years.

>> this is going to sound really crazy but people who volunteer, end up feeling richer, as if they had more money in their pocket. i think people have things that they can share that are just intrinsic to who they are.

>> and not just dogs.

>> therapy work is really demanding. sue says that exercising pransky before she goes to work mellows her out and gives her the stamina she needs to do her job. reality check, she was seven when she started now and she is 11. how much longer can she work? i invite you to join me after this broadcast at 9:15 eastern time . i'll be taking questions on twitter. you can find me at jane pauly today #reimagine.

>> i always find it so inspiring to see what people think to do with their