To say Pat Christianson is a dog lover is an understatement.

While her dog Fritz is not a therapy dog, the former Erie television anchor left the business in 2008 to start Therapy Dogs United.

"There was no charity that was training, evaluating and placing therapy dogs out in the community to work with a variety of events," said Christianson.

The organization is based on providing comfort, smiles and often open dialogue with people who need it through a simple dog visit.

There were only four certified dogs in the beginning, and one place they could visit. Growth changed that.

"I cannot think of a place that does not welcome dogs at this point to make a visit with a child, with an adult, a special needs individual, mental health or an older adult," said Christianson.

Now, there's 280 dogs in eight states.

Therapy Dogs United has headquarters in an office on W. 8th St. in Erie.

Handlers and their four-legged friends have to pass two rigorous tests proctored by local dog trainers, so the pups can visit children in schools, become part of hospital communities and even share their love in group homes.

Four-year-old Rumi is popular wherever he goes.

"Therapy dog handlers typically return to the same places," said volunteer Mary Moodey, Rumi's handler. "The people know the dog and build a relationship."

She works to keep him trained for different places and scenarios.

The dogs need to be "unflappable" able to tolerate their surroundings, according to Christianson.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, handlers in Cape Coral, Fla., rallied to bring their furry friends to first responders who were working around the clock and in need of a mental break.

"We'll have somebody say, 'This was the greatest day of my life," said Christianson. "I'll think, "This was just a dog that came and visited you,' but they're like, 'You have no idea how much that meant to me.'"

More information on Therapy Dogs United is available here.