MAYS LANDING - The Furry Buddies made their bi-weekly stop on Sept. 4 at the Mays Landing Branch of the Atlantic County Library System to provide comfort and support to anyone needing it.

“It’s just nice for people to come in if they are having a crappy day and pet a dog,” said dog trainer Donna Downs.

Downs, along with friend Colleen Berenotto and their dogs, make up the Furry Buddies. The group alternates weekly between the Mays Landing library and the branch in Galloway Township.

While there are several dogs that are a part of the Furry Buddies, this week there was Freedom, a 6-year-old German shepard owned by Berenotto, and Kody, a 2-year-old chocolate English Labrador owned by Downs. Each dog provides much-needed support to their respective owners. Freedom provides mobility support, such as making sure she keeps her balance, for Berenotto.

Kody on the other hand is a diabetic alert dog for Downs, who trained him to alert her to her blood sugar going below 80 and above 130.

Downs has been training dogs for 36 years and has her own business — Donna Downs Dog Training. “I train a lot of different dogs to give people their freedom ... It allows the dog more freedom, too,” said Downs.

When they visit the libraries, the Furry Buddies play many different roles. They are a non-judgmental audience for children practicing their reading, they provide comfort to those having a hard day, or they sit there being soft and cuddly for those just wanting to pet a cute animal.

For Keira Whitehead, who will be turning two in October, the trip to the library was all about petting the Furry Buddies. “She loves them,” said Keira’s mom, Rebecca Whitehead. “We have been coming here for years. Throughout her visit, Keira would gently pet and kiss Freedom and Kody. Each dog loved the attention and enjoyed Keira’s enthusiasm.

Downs and Berenotto also try to make the experience an educational one by answering any questions people may ask them about the Furry Buddies and dogs in general.

There is one topic in particular, though, that they try to focus on when they educate people.

“We try to teach the differences between a support dog and a therapy dog,” said Berenotto. According to Downs and Berenotto, an emotional support dog is not trained and is limited in what they can do and where they can go. However, a therapy dog is fully trained and is allowed in most public places.

The Furry Buddies are at the Mays Landing Branch every first and third Tuesday of the month and are at the Galloway Township Branch the second and fourth Tuesday from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. For more information on the Furry Buddies at the library, please visit:

For more information on Donna Downs Dog Training, please call 609-965-3776.

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