Preston Chiaro and his dogs, Fred and Rosie.

Slobbery Kisses and Well-Wishes: Preston Chiaro’s Therapy Pups

Activism, Outreach and Education

It was a serendipitous morning on the trail when Preston Chiaro and his two-year old poodle Fred came to understand the value of therapy pets. As Fred happily connected with everyone he met, doling out smiles and smooches like they were candy, a fellow hiker suggested to Chiaro that Fred’s temperament was perfectly aligned for work as a therapy pet.

Chiaro initially believed that the suggestion required him to train his beloved Fred in the name of service and then relinquish him to another. A noble cause, but he had no intention of doing anything of the sort.

The difference between a therapy pet, an emotional support animal and a service animal is subtle but specific, so it’s no surprise that many people are perplexed. The main distinction is that a therapy animal brings comfort to many, while support and service animals are focused on one person. An approachable demeanor is essential to a therapy animal’s job: working with its owner and doing what a well-qualified candidate appears to want to do naturally anyway— connect with people. With that contrast, Chiaro saw that Fred had an ability to positively affect those he engaged with, and by proxy, so did Chiaro.

Fred, a white and amber poodle, tilts his head at the camera. He is framed by a red border displaying his name in white letters.
“People react to the dogs; the dogs react to the people,” Chiaro observes. Photo courtesy of ITA.

Fred was three years old and working with Intermountain Therapy Animals (ITA) when Chiaro rescued Rosie, an amber-colored goldendoodle. Rosie also completed training courses with ITA, and soon both dogs began volunteering regularly and independently. While one pup enjoys a nap at home, the other dispenses slobbery kisses unsolicited to the masses while wearing a red vest with “Therapy Dog, please pet me” boldly printed across the side.

ITA was founded 30 years ago in Salt Lake with the goal of providing positive animal-assisted interactions to those in need. After expanding to Montana and Idaho, they are now connected with like-minded affiliates across the US, and many are benefiting from what therapy animals like Fred and Rosie offer. Vastly different in their approaches, the dogs came to complement one another: Fred joyful and playful; Rosie well-behaved and intuitive. Still, they both love an audience and wear themselves out to please a crowd.

Rosie, an amber doodle, stares with her mouth wide open in a pant at the camera. She is framed by a red border displaying her name in white letters.
“This is incredibly satisfying work. My job is to make people smile with my dogs. It’s just … cool,” says Chiaro. Photo courtesy of ITA.

Chiaro and company make the rounds to ITA-sponsored facilities weekly, presenting friends and onlookers with a slice of happiness during an otherwise mundane—perhaps even difficult—day. The University of Utah, Salt Lake City International Airport and multiple hospitals are familiar with Fred and Rosie, where they offer students, travelers and patients a smile. “People react to the dogs; the dogs react to the people,” Chiaro observes, unsure which comes first.

“People react to the dogs; the dogs react to the people.”

The people do indeed react. One afternoon, as they walked the concourse at the SLC airport, Chiaro heard Fred’s name and turned to see a young woman running toward them with her arms outstretched. She buried her face in Fred’s neck and cried as his entire body wagged. The young woman had met Fred and Chiaro at UVU Hospital the previous summer, as the woman awaited a heart transplant. She didn’t forget Fred and it appeared he didn’t forget her either.

Therapy pets like Fred and Rosie offer brief moments of pure acceptance, without judgment or boundaries. They offer comfort without taking notes and collecting a copay. They dole out fat helpings of happy chemicals related to love, trust, acceptance and even euphoria. But the beneficiaries of the many wet-nosed boops aren’t the only ones profiting.

Becoming involved with ITA has been very rewarding for Chiaro, and today he is extensively involved with the organization. Among other things, he is recruiting and mentoring volunteers, evaluating and testing teams and continuing to work with Fred and Rosie. “This is incredibly satisfying work. My job is to make people smile with my dogs. It’s just … cool,” says Chiaro, smiling.

“This is incredibly satisfying work. My job is to make people smile with my dogs.”

If you and your pet, or your organization, would like to get involved with ITA, you can find further details at

Check out more local animal stories:
Bring the Bunny Inside: True Hearts for Healing Paw Rabbit Rescue
Proper Paws: Training Owners to Train Their Dogs