“What lesson in life have your dogs taught you?” Waggleview with Cynthia Hinckley, Founder and Executive Director of Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Inc., Writer

Please read the Waggleview below to find out about this remarkable woman leader and her dog. Woof on!

The Dog Owner: Cynthia Hinckley, Founder and Executive Director of Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Inc., Writer

Cynthia Hinckley

I have been visiting with therapy dogs since 1992. Seven of my own dogs have been therapy dogs and together we have made over 30,000 visits to people of all ages in nursing homes, hospitals, mental health facilities, Alzheimer’s units, hospice care, and schools. I divide my time between overseeing Bright Spot, volunteering with my own therapy dogs, and speaking to civic organizations interested in learning more about the meaningful work performed by therapy dogs.  My articles on therapy dogs have appeared in Fido Loves, The English Setter Association of America Magazine, The American Kennel Club Gazette, and The Bright Spot News. I am the author of the blog Say Hello Spot: Living and Working with Therapy Dogs, and am currently writing a book on my work with therapy dogs. I live with my husband and three gentle English Setters on an old farm c. 1792 in western Massachusetts.

Dogs type and Name: (photo from left: Annabelle, Lily, King)

Annabelle – blue belton English Setter – 7 years old

Lily – blue belton English Setter – 5 years old

King – orange belton English Setter – 5 years old

Annabelle, Lily, King

Q: Why did you choose these dogs?

Our first English Setter, Beatrice, was given to our three daughters by a wonderful English Setter breeder and professional dog show handler, Eileen Hackett. Our daughters had two Irish Setters back then (1992) that they showed in Junior Showmanship competitions at AKC dog shows. Eileen, being partial to English Setters, said we needed to have an English as well as the Irish Setters.  It was with Beatrice that I started my therapy dog work. We fell in love with the breed, and have had seven more English Setters since Bea’s passing. Their gentle, friendly, affectionate temperament makes them wonderful companions and excellent therapy dogs.

Q: Do you talk to your dogs? If so, what do you talk about?

Yes – I do talk to my dogs. They make great sounding boards. I work from my home office with the three dogs lying at my feet. As I write, I talk to them, running my ideas by them. They make the perfect co-workers. Always willing to listen, and never judgmental. When we’re out on our early morning walks, I talk to them about the schedule for the day. They’re always agreeable, as long as it means we’ll all be together as a pack.

Q: If they could talk to you, what would they say?

Well, Annabelle does talk. She’s one of only two of my dogs that actually has a “voice.” Beatrice had a voice, too. Annie serves as my conscience. She’s always reminding me of things I’m supposed to be doing. And, she reminds me it’s 5:00 p.m., time to stop working and feed them dinner. She’s an amazing help. If Lily and King could talk, they’d tell me that anything goes, just as long as we’re together. English Setters love to be with their family. They’re not a breed to leave home alone for long periods of time.

Therapy dog helps students de-stress

Q: If your dogs had a job or career, what would they be doing?

Lily and King have careers. They are both certified Bright Spot Therapy Dogs. Along with visiting colleges (Lily in photo above at Bay Path University) where we hold group therapy dog stress-relief events during mid-term and final exams, Lily and King are part of our special children’s Reading Buddy Program that fosters a love of reading. Children read-one-on one to the dogs and they provide a friendly, non-judgmental, non-threatening listener (King pictured below with a second grader). Lily and King love the attention they get from the children, and the children love reading to them as they improve their reading skills. Annabelle isn’t a therapy dog. She is the self-appointed household manager, a job she inherited from her great grandma, Trudi. Annie keeps track of all of us,humans and canines. She takes her job very seriously.

Child reads to therapy dog 

Q: What lesson in life have your dogs taught you?

Through the years, I have learned so many lessons from my dogs. Talk less; listen more is a big one. From my special therapy dog, James, I learned the importance of just being there for someone. He would lay for hours alongside a hospice patient in bed (James pictured below with a hospice patient), his head resting gently on his/her chest… quiet company for someone who needs and wants you there, without filling the quiet with words. And, there’s a time to work, and a time to play. Be sure to make time for the play. They continually teach me many important life lessons.

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Q: How do your dogs inspire you?

Over the past 23 years, I have remained in awe of the magical connection my dogs have made with people in need. Without a word, their gentle, friendly, accepting manner evokes smiles, conversation, and movement where none had existed. My dogs inspire me to be a better person. I try to be more like them every day. 

Q: Where are your dog’s favorite places to go with you?

Anywhere and everywhere, as long as we’re together. They love to go for a ride in the car or a walk on the path to visit with the farmer’s cows and the barn cats.

Q: Who or what do your dogs find the most interesting?

English Setters are sporting dogs. They were bred to go on point when they spot game birds, such as pheasant and quail, so their hunting companion knows where to go. We have a wooded area out in our back hayfield where the dogs go and sit, ever-so-quietly, for hours watching for game. They get very excited when a flock of wild turkeys lands in their field. It’s quite a sight to watch the three of them go on point and stand motionless.

Q: What is the most annoying thing other dog owners do?

People who get a dog and expect it to train itself without any effort on their part. After awhile, the person gets tired of the ill-behaved dog and takes it to a shelter to be adopted.

Q: What does being a responsible dog owner mean to you?

Bringing a dog into your home should be a lifetime commitment. Everyone involved should be on-board with the decision to get a dog. Right from the very start, the dog owner should begin training their new dog, building a bond between them. A well-trained dog is a happy dog. It takes time and patience.

Q: Do you ever dress up your dogs? If so, as what?

I’ve tried to dress them up as Santa Claus and reindeer at Christmas, but the costumes don’t stay on for long.

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Q: How have your dogs changed your life?

Dogs have been a very special part of my life from an early age. I got my first dog, a Dalmatian, at the age of three, and started training dogs (my Standard Poodles) at the age of ten. When my dogs led me into therapy dog work, my life changed in ways I never could have imagined. I left my job in private school fundraising and development to found Bright Spot Therapy Dogs. I was driven by my passion to provide comfort and caring to those in need through the human-canine bond. By starting a therapy dog organization, I hoped to involved more people and dogs in this meaningful work. Today, we have 140 active Therapy Dog Teams and over 95 healthcare and educational facilities requesting our no-fee-for-service visits.

Q: Do your dogs have a philosophy of life?

Live in the moment. Take life as it comes, one day at a time.

Q: I love my dogs because…   they are always there for me, unconditionally. They brighten my day when I am down. That’s why I called the organization Bright Spot Therapy Dogs. They truly are a bright spot in my life and in the lives of those they visit.

Q: Have you ever made dog treats for your dogs? If so, please share your recipe.

No. My dogs lose out here. I don’t spend such time in the kitchen. But, I can recommend a great cookbook written by a friend of mine: Canine Cuisine by Carlotta Cooper. It’s full of great recipes.


WAGGLEVIEWS: These interviews are focused on woman leaders in business, the community, or at home. My hope in doing this is to present remarkable and respected women in their community with their beloved pets. Who can resist reading about dogs and what these women do? This is a platform for women to display their talents; their own business, a new book, a deeply loved passion for a charity or their own job. It also shows their love for their dog!

Thank you Cynthia for taking the time to participate in the Waggleview.

Please comment below.

What lesson in life have your dogs taught you?

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