Man with his therapy dogs

Traveling Therapy Dogs
How Travato owner Beth shares the love of dogs with others.
By: Sue Ann Jaffarian 

One of the things I enjoy most in my time on the road as a full-time RVer and writer is meeting up with other travelers, particularly those in the Winnebago family. One day I received a message from Beth Jernberg, a member of the Travato Owners and Wannabees Facebook group. She said she wasn't very far from where I was staying in Georgetown, TX, visiting friends. She wanted to know if I wanted to meet up. Of course! Beth came down to Georgetown and stayed overnight at the RV park where I was staying so we could visit.

I knew that Beth had Bernese Mountain Dogs, and I knew that was a large and beautiful breed, but I had never seen one in person. As soon as I set eyes on Beth's two huge dogs I thought, "Those dogs are going to eat me!" That, of course, could not have been further from the truth. These animals are incredibly cuddly, low-key, and sweet therapy dogs - not comfort animals or service dogs, but actually certified to provide therapy services.

Beth travels in her Winnebago 2017 Travato 59K with two adult Berners (as the dogs are nicknamed), and one puppy. The adults are Kayle and Kasey, and the puppy is Kadey. When I asked how she juggles the tight space in the van, she said when driving, the two adult dogs are on the twin beds, and Kadey travels in a kennel. At night, Beth sleeps on one bed and Kayle and Kasey take the other, with Kadey in the kennel.

Beth's Story

Like her animals, Beth Jernsberg is a sweet, low-key, and loving person with a special peaceful nature that glows from within. As you get to know her, you can see how perfect she is for training and handling therapy animals. Beth is a retired educator, having retired in May of 2018 as a Professor of Education from the University of Sioux Falls. She is the mother of three adopted girls and is a grandmother.

When Beth was preparing for retirement, she knew she wanted something smaller than her home, and considered a tiny house. Then she realized it would be better if her home were more mobile and started considering RVs. She tent camped a lot when she was younger, especially in the summer in Colorado while studying for her advanced degrees. She discovered the Travato and knew it was perfect for her needs.

Beth and her animals split their time between Sioux Falls, SD, and the road. April through October, Beth returns home and stays in a campground. By October, she and her canine companions are on the road to escape winter. Beth said two of the biggest challenges in traveling with her dogs is making sure she goes places where the dogs are welcome, in campgrounds and on trails, since they are never apart. The second is when one of the dogs gets sick.

Two Bernese Mountain Dogs laying on white floor

Spreading the Canine Love

Her adult dogs have received certification from Therapy Dogs International, an organization started in 1976 in New Jersey. A dog can be any breed or even a mixed breed, but it cannot test to be a therapy dog until it is at least a year old. Beth said the obedience work she did with her animals paid off and both Kayle and Kasey passed their tests the first time they tried. She is currently training Kadey, who is scheduled to take her test in October. Beth says a combination of obedience and temperament makes for a good therapy dog, and Berners are very docile and calm, making them perfect candidates.

It is while she is in Sioux Falls that Beth and the dogs keep a rigorous schedule of providing therapy services. Some are weekly, some are once a month. Their rounds include a children's hospital where they visit children accompanied by a child life specialist, a senior care facility, adult day care center for adults with mild disabilities, rehab units of a hospital, a behavioral health hospital, assisted care facilities, hospice center, memory care facilities, and a VA long-term care unit.

Some of these visits are "pack visits." During pack visits, Beth and her animals get together with six to eight other dogs and their handlers and go together. The dogs are well-behaved, and they do not interact with each other, but Beth said the social interaction with other handlers makes it fun.

On Mondays, she and the dogs have one of their favorite visits. They go to an elementary school, where, two at a time, first graders bring a book and join them. One child reads to Kasey and the other to Kayle. When they are done, Beth takes a picture of them and the dogs, then they return to their classroom and two more students come to read. The next week, Beth brings a print of the picture to give to each student. She says that sometimes the students start off afraid of the dogs, but in time sit right beside them and read.

Group of people sitting around petting Bernese Mountain Dog

Taking Therapy on the Road

When Beth is traveling, there are no set therapy visits, but Beth and her animals still continue to bring joy to others. She said she'll go into small towns and sit in parks or to Cracker Barrel restaurants, where she will sit in one of the rocking chairs in front and let people approach her and the dogs, which she says is great fun. Anyone who wants to pet them can, and she will stop whatever she is doing and visit with the people and answer questions about the dogs. According to Beth, every conversation starts with 'they are so big,' and generally ends with 'they are so nice.'

She'll also wait for circumstances in which the dogs can be of help. Sometimes people will share that they recently lost their dog and it helps them to give the Berners a hug and look into their eyes. At parks, she'll often hook them up to a small cart, and offer rides to children. Some parents offer her money for the rides, and she tells them that some fun should still be free. Beth truly loves sharing her beautiful dogs.

Beth sitting next to Bernese Mountain Dog puppy in red cart. Two adult Bernese Mountain Dogs are pulling the red cart

One of the most fun things Beth has done with her dogs is compete with them. The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America sponsors draft dog competitions, in which the dogs compete solo and as a brace team pulling a cart. She and the dogs will spend two days in a state park with 20 other Berners and their owners, and compete as a draft dog team. Both Kasey and Kayle are Grand Master Draft Dogs, which is the highest category of success in the carting competitions.

Bernese Blessings

When I asked her what working with these dogs means to her, she became emotional. "I have been blessed personally by these animals who love me. My dogs not only make things better for me -- with the unconditional love of an animal. But I know they make things better for others. Even when I don't plan a 'therapy dog visit,' and one just happens along the way, people usually tell me thanks for sharing my dogs because the dogs were able to give them just what they needed."

One of the stories Beth told me during our meeting brought tears to my eyes and continues to warm my heart. "I was at the hospital when a nurse stopped me in the hallway to ask if I would help. I took Kayle and Kasey with me to a family conference room. There were 20 people there, and they had all just made the decision to stop life support for their loved one. I felt so out of place as a person -- it was an intimate setting and I was an intruder. So, I let the leashes go and stood by the doorway. Kayle and Kasey walked over to various people and accepted their hugs as they put their heads down and cried on the dogs. Then the dogs knew when they were done, and they returned to me. I put on the leashes and left without a word. They knew what to do."

Two Bernese Mountain Dogs wearing red bandannas

Remember, if you run into Beth, Kasey, Kayle, and Kadey on the road, there's no need to be afraid of those huge dogs. They don't want to eat you, they just want to bring you love, peace, and comfort. That's their job.


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User commented on October 18, 2021 12:21 PM
User commented on October 18, 2021 12:21 PM