Jim Thomas and Archie – Left Hand Laurel

Series: Left Hand Laurel | Story 8

November 27, 2019

Courtesy photo

Niwotian Jim Thomas and his canine companion Archie are loyal volunteers with Therapy Dogs Boulder County, and are this month's Left Hand Laurel recipients.

Medicine on a leash is how this month's Laurel recipient Jim Thomas refers to his faithful companion, Archie the fox red Labrador retriever. As part of the organization, Therapy Dog Boulder County (TDBC), 65-year-old Thomas and six-year-old Archie are weekly visitors at Superior Elementary School. All 76 pounds of the wagging pooch exudes love, so it's the perfect gig for him. His human partner is all about being there for others too.

"My mom and dad brought us up to help people," Thomas said about his family of six kids while growing up in Concord, NH. "It's that sense of community and camaraderie that's really rewarding."

Thomas' information technology career with IBM precipitated his move to Colorado more than 30 years ago, and he's been a Niwotian for the majority of that time.

For 10 years he helped organize Colorado Special Olympics' state-wide events, alongside IBM co-workers. He retired in 2008, and shifted his energy to an heirloom quality furniture building business, enjoying outdoor activities, and volunteering, especially with TDBC.

TDBC founder and executive director Daryl Holle said, "Jim and Archie have been an instrumental part of the TDBC team network. I've known Jim for a long time and he's an excellent handler and works well with Archie in the toughest of situations. Volunteering with the therapy dog is not easy work. It's very concentrated work as it requires extreme focus on your dog 100% of the time while trying to find a way to have fun while doing it."

Scientific research supports why time with a dog is good for one's health. The human-dog interaction elicits oxytocin, similar to the effect infants and their mothers feel. When in the company of a dog, heart rates slow, blood pressure drops, and it's proven that anxiety, stress, and depression are eased.

Archie was a Christmas gift from his son and daughter-in-law, Jason and Krystal in 2014. As it turns out, Archie's litter sister Maggie was equally irresistible and came home to live in Mead with Jason and Krystal, and their two daughters, Jillian and Alexis.

Thomas discovered the calming effect Archie has on others when he was a 10-week old puppy. While watching the filming of the movie "Dear Eleanor" in Niwot, an unplanned scene played out when a frustrated actress was having a hard time on the set.

"I remember her shaking her head, and she looked across the street and saw Archie," Thomas said. "She just hugged on him and hugged on him. You could see the change in her stress level. That was the moment I thought, 'This dog would be good for people.' I thought this is really magical. "

Archie attended dog obedience classes and, as all dogs in the TDBC program are, he was tested and certified as a safe dog citizen prior to volunteering.

Thomas and one-year old Archie visited the residents at AltaVita Memory Care Centre , a Longmont memory care facility for their first weekly assignment and it lasted two years. When TDBC set up a new program in Boulder Valley schools, Archie was one of the pioneering dogs to visit students at Boulder's Superior Elementary.

That was three years ago and since then, once a week the pair spends time with all of the second and fifth graders, including special education classrooms. Each visit is a little different - sometimes Thomas discusses dog safety or a few students mingle with Archie, and often students read to Archie.

"Every one of the experiences blows me away," Thomas said. "Like I go in one day and a kid is having a bad day, for whatever reason...home life, they can't get math, whatever it is and the teacher provides one-on-one time with a team." For some students, dog visits get them excited to go to school where it had been a struggle before. No matter the ailment or issue, Thomas said, dogs are able to take the edge off.

Thomas and Archie also participate in TDBC's special events: dog visits with CU-Boulder students, camps for children with medical challenges, and calming harried holiday travelers at Denver International Airport.

Thomas also volunteered with the Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance, and for the past two years has been with the Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance, supporting the forest service by providing information to fellow hikers.

In addition to Jason and Krystal, Thomas has a daughter and son-in-law, Jessica and Bartley and his grandson Egan, in Portland, Maine. Spending part of his summers in Maine has been a tradition for Thomas. He takes his volunteering on the road when he and Archie make the drive to the east coast each June and Thomas joins the Appalachian Mountain Club on the trails. Archie loves the ocean and hiking, so his annual trips to the coast are extra -special.

Holle said, "Jim and Archie have brought tens of thousands of smiles to children of pre-kindergarten age all the way up to Alzheimer's patients over 100 years old. I am very proud they're part of our community and the TDBC network."

TDBC teams can be found in 26 venues including schools, hospitals, and retirement communities. More than 125 teams are onboard, but with the growing number of affiliates, there's a need to enlist more volunteers. The nonprofit organization also relies on financial donations to keep them in operation.

To learn more about Therapy Dogs Boulder County, to volunteer and donate, visit https://TherapyDogsBoulderCounty.com/.


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