Soothing Souls

By Kastle Waserman

Photography Courtesy of Go Team Therapy Dogs

IN MEMORY OF HER SON, Nancy Trepagnier brings therapy dogs to soothe those in need

There’s a reason why a smile likely comes over your face when you’re around a dog.

According to a recent Healthy Minds Monthly Poll by the American Psychiatric Association, 87 percent of dog owners say their pets positively impact their mental health. 

“Dogs have a way of comforting people that humans don’t,” says Nancy Trepagnier, executive director of Colorado Springs–based Go Team Therapy Dogs. “They’re nonjudgmental. It doesn’t matter what you look or sound like; the dog is there for you.”

As the founder of Go Team Therapy Dogs, Trepagnier has seen the power dogs have to turn an atmosphere around. They’ve gone into every kind of situation, from people being evacuated from wildfires, mass shooting survivors and suicides to people angry or stressed about a canceled flight at the airport. “When the dogs come in, we just see the smiles come to people’s faces,” she says.

Trepagnier says Go Team has different teams for different situations. “Our crisis dogs will just lay down and be calm for people to come pet them,” she explains. “Our airport dogs are the ones that can handle a lot of commotion and noise in the airport and deal with people who may be frustrated about their flight or scared of flying.” 

Go Team dogs also visit patients in the hospital, and Trepagnier sees the effects they have on patients’ moods. “We just watch their faces and watch them smile,” she says. “We let them talk to the dogs because a lot of times the staff doesn’t have time to listen, the family can’t come, and they don’t have anyone to talk to.” 

Trepagnier says it’s important to clarify that the Go Team Therapy Dogs undergo extensive training and have liability insurance. “The dogs that come to us have to pass the American Kennel Club K9 Good Citizen test. Then we evaluate the handler and the dog,” she says. “If we think they would make a good addition to the team, we invite them to go through the training. It’s a twenty-hour program, and every year, they’re re-evaluated.”

Go Team Therapy Dogs was started in memory of Trepagnier’s son, David, an avid volunteer who passed away at age 23 in 2007 after being diagnosed with stage four melanoma. When the Waldo Canyon fire broke out in Colorado Springs in June 2012, Trepagnier had just two therapy dogs. She got a call that they needed help to calm down the evacuees. 

At first, Trepagnier didn’t want to go because it was David’s birthday, and she wasn’t up for it. But she felt a tap on her shoulder. “It was like a whisper saying, ‘Mom, go help, they need you.’ My son Ryan and I took Tabor—David’s dog—and Snickers, and we went.”

While there, a fireman asked Trepagnier the name of her team. “We didn’t have a name, so I said, ‘the Go Team because we’ll go whenever we’re called.’” 

The organization had its first training class a year later, and 32 people showed up. It has grown to more than 3,000 teams across the U.S. and Italy. “I saw a real need for well-trained dogs to get out into the community,” Trepagnier says.

She says David’s spirit lives on through the organization. “I know this is David’s dream. It’s about giving back. That’s the biggest thing to us.”

Think You Have a Good Candidate for a Therapy Dog?
Is your dog a natural at comforting people? Does he/she act calm in chaotic situations? The Go Team is looking for dogs and their handlers to join the team. All breeds are accepted as long as they pass the following criteria:

• Teach your dog the 10 American Kennel Club (AKC) Good Citizen skills (can be done at home, with a trainer or in group or private classes)

• Take and pass the AKC Good Citizen Test

• Schedule an evaluation with Go Team Therapy Dogs (no charge)

• If invited, enter the Go Team training program (includes membership, custom vest for the dog, and liability insurance for one year)

• Be re-evaluated annually 

Go Team Therapy Dogs

4164 Austin Bluffs Parkway #212

Colorado Springs