After Pat Holmes and Chris Monroe registered their therapy dogs, they wondered: Now what?

That’s when they decided to start Whatcom Therapy Dogs.

This program connects registered therapy dogs and their handlers with the community. People volunteer their dogs when they’re available to help.

A therapy dog is different from a service dog because they provide affection and comfort in a facility where they’re welcome, rather than assisting people with their everyday lives.

Therapy dogs help lower stress and anxiety, reduce blood pressure, release endorphins, improve moods and offer emotional support.

Holmes says dogs make people smile just from walking into a room. She says dogs bring out qualities that people might not share with others.

“Dogs are not judgmental,” Monroe says.

Whatcom Therapy Dogs visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools, mental health programs, and youth activity programs. There are even programs where children read aloud to dogs, allowing them to better their skills without being judged. They visit the Bellingham International Airport for the Pups Easing Traveler Stress (PETS) program where dogs help relieve the stress of flying.

Whatcom Therapy Dogs also visits Western Washington University’s campus during dead week — an intense study period before finals — and finals week to give students an opportunity to de-stress. They also appear at the Love Moves 5K running race and Mental Health Fair, and parents weekend events on campus.

Every dog is different, which is why picking dogs to be therapy dogs depends more on their temperament rather than breed. Some dogs start therapy training from puppyhood, but they must be at least one year old to be evaluated and registered. They usually start working as therapy dogs at two years old.

Dogs are trained on basic obedience, reaction to other dogs, noises, strangers, being petted, as well as many other practices. Just like dogs must be trained, their handlers must know how to manage their animal.

Whatcom Therapy Dogs provides a place for members to share stories, tips and opportunities.