Shelter dog proves you can train older dogs to be therapy animals

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but can you? One shelter dog is proving that maybe you can.

If Willa Mae could really speak, she would have quite the story to tell.

"So I happen to lay my eyes on her. She was one of the only dogs that didn't get up and really interact very much with me. I was intrigued by that." 

Dr. Kathryn Fega, a Scottsdale-based psychiatrist met Willa Mae at the Arizona Animal Welfare League Shelter in 2016.

"I went to the shelter on Valentine's Day with a full heart and really wanted to adopt my first dog," Dr. Fega said.

Willa Mae was Dr. Fega's first pet, but this wasn't the dog's first home. She was six at the time and already in and out of the shelter.

"She had bounced to the shelter. She had been returned and it was very hard for her."

Michael Morefield says even then, you could see Willa Mae's spirit and big heart.

"She's an empathetic dog. As you can see, Willa Mae has her heart on her paw, that is part of her life."

Traits that Dr. Fega also noticed, and that's why she decided Willa Mae would become a therapy dog.

"Willa Mae is breaking down myths that we have been trying to spread the facts of for years," Morefield said.

"In order to become a therapy dog, they like to have well-mannered, polite, calm and relaxed dogs. And the goal of being a therapy dog is to volunteer your services to be comforting and to be able to provide support and affection towards others," Dr. Fega said.

Willa Mae is all that and more. Dr. Fega says she loves socializing with people and is often a huge comfort for her clients.

"Studies have shown in people that have severe mental illness often times they have isolation, depression and they're socially withdrawn and again, having that ability to make a connection with an animal, to be able to pet them and show love and receive love and comfort."