maverick01Meet One of Our Featured Pet Partner Team
Maverick and Rodney Whaley

I got my little buddy, Maverick from a sled dog kennel in British Columbia Canada.

My first experience with him came in 2002. For my 50th birthday, I wanted to spend a week mushing sled dogs and entering a race. I had found an outfitter in Princeton, British Columbia, Canada by the name of Nakitsilik Outdoor Adventures that offered what I was looking for. There were 27 beautiful Siberian huskies at Nalitsilik. Maverick was one of them. While he was not in my race team that year, I did run him in a team.

During the following year, I communicated frequently with the outfitter, and was invited back in 2003 for three weeks. During this time, I worked as a tour guide in exchange for the opportunity to simply enjoy mushing and working with the dogs. That year I drove (2,500 miles one way!) so I could take my own two dogs from Tennessee, Chinook and Chelan. I had raised them from puppies and had trained them here in Tennessee with a cart (I call my dogsled on wheels). I really wanted to see how they would do with well-trained, established sled dogs. Chelan and Chinook did exceptionally well. By the end of the first week, Chinook was running lead in my race team along beside another lead dog that was in the movie, Snow Dogs.

The way the kennels were set up, the dogs were in large pens with anywhere from three to six dogs in a pen. Typically, they were grouped according to the teams they ran in. Chelan and Chinook, my two dogs, were in a separate pen to themselves. The dogs were not on chains and seemed to socialize quite well in this environment. About the third day I was there, there was a fight between two male dogs, Blue and Maverick. We immediately broke them up, but not before Maverick had been bitten in the face. The owner decided to separate Maverick and put him in a pen all by himself which was right next to my two dogs. She explained that she had had a lot of trouble with Maverick lately. No matter what pen he was in, another male dog would pick on him and they would fight. His eyes had become cloudy and he could not see very well. He had become very irritable. She could not understand why the other dogs always wanted to fight with him and he with them. He had just had his 8th birthday. She said that when Maverick was a young dog, he had been a show dog.

As I continued my stay, I became very fond of Maverick. When I would go out to spend time with my two dogs, I would always give him a lot of attention. He really responded to me. I would put him in the pen with my dogs and they appeared to get along great. I just fell in love with the little fellow. I nursed his injured face, and as often as I could, ran him in my team. Laurie, the owner, noticed how well we related to each other. She did not know what to do with him, and offered for me to take him home as a gift. I was really excited about this possibility. Maverick was registered by the Canadian Kennel Club. The only hurdle was convincing my wife, who had stated several times that the four we had were plenty.

The last weekend before I was to return home, Vicki, my wife, was going to be there with me. She had flown to Washington State to visit her mother and came up to BC Canada see the kennels, etc. After a time of discussion (A LOT of discussion) she agreed for Maverick to return with me to Tennessee.

I drove the 2,500 miles home in four days. Maverick had very yellow teeth and awful breath. We decided to take him to our veterinarian, Dr. Paula Schuerer, to get his teeth cleaned, hoping this would improve his breath. I also wanted her to look at his eyes, as he was about blind. So we took him in. Dr. Paula is a close personal friend in addition to our vet. After she got him anesthetized, she called us and told us what she had found. He had several rotten teeth. His mouth was full of serious infection. She had pulled one tooth with just her fingers. She had to pull five teeth. She put him on a strong antibiotic for the infection. She stated that there was no way to know this without anesthetizing him and getting in there and seeing it. This was no reflection on his previous owner, but explained a lot of things. The reason Maverick had been so irritable was because he was sick and felt bad. Too, the other dogs, smelling the infection and realizing he was sick, attacked him and picked on him. Finding this infection in his mouth answered a lot of questions.

We got Maverick home and he continued to improve. It wasn’t long before he was a totally different dog. His eyes were very cloudy, and they began to improve as well. His face, unbeknown to us previously, had been swollen from the infection. He now took on a different look as the swelling went down.

As for our relationship, Maverick is VERY attached to me. We have a fenced in back yard that is adjacent to our driveway. When I leave in the morning, Maverick is right there watching me leave. When it is time for me to come home in the evening, he waits by the fence watching the driveway for me to arrive. When I drive in, he gets all excited. He is usually the first one I see when I get out of my truck. When I scout the yard on PP (poop patrol), cleaning up the yard, he strolls along right by my side. We are very attached to EACH OTHER. We have a very special relationship, Maverick and I.

This past January, I went back to Canada with all three of my dogs for another three week stint. Laurie could not believe how good Maverick looked. She also commented on how focused he was on me. Whatever I would be doing, whether feeding the dogs, watering, hooking up a team to take out, taking a tourist on a tour, Maverick always kept his eyes on me. My main team last year consisted of my three dogs plus eight more from the kennels there for a total of eleven. Maverick ran and pulled very well.

This past Spring, my little Siberian Husky buddy, Maverick, and I trained to be a Pet Partner therapy team. This past Saturday we went to an assisted living facility, not far from our home, called Benton House. The residents in this facility, while feeble, are coherent and quite alert for the most part. They each have a room that includes their own bathroom, a kitchenette, bedroom, and a sitting area. There are also common areas such as the dining area, lounge, and an activity area. It is very nice. Visiting with Maverick and me was an eleven-year-old youngster who is really into dogs. His family has been friends of ours for years and he was visiting “my dogs” for the day.

We began our visit in the activity area. There were several residents there awaiting our visit. As always, Maverick brought smiles to the faces of the residents. He went from person to person, allowing them to pet him. Many told of the pets they had when they were young, etc. He happily took treats from the residents. We had been there for quite some time and were preparing to leave. Susan, the activity director who was guiding me, said, “Before you go, we must visit Mrs. Johnson, she needs some encouragement.” This was fine with me. We proceeded down the hall and knocked on Mrs. Johnson’s door. As soon as the door opened and she saw Maverick, this small elderly lady shrieked with joy. Immediately tears began running down her face. She stooped down as best she could and embraced my little canine buddy. She hugged him and hugged him. Maverick knew exactly how to respond. He immediately returned the affection. After the exchange of introductions, made our way to the couch. I sat beside Mrs. Johnson and Maverick sat between us on the floor. As we visited I learned the story.

Mrs. Johnson had been a dog lover all her life. When she was younger, she would take in all the strays, feed them, restore their health, and find homes for them. Today, we would say she was “rescuing” them. When she reached a point in life that she had to go to this senior adult facility, she took her dog with her. The dog had lived in the room with her. However, anytime she went outside with the pooch or even down the hall, she had to have him on a leash. He never got to run or play. She reached a point of realization that the dog would be happier with her grandchildren, running and playing. So she gave him up to her loving grandchildren to keep for the well being of the animal. Although she felt this was the right thing to do, since his departure, she had been very depressed, lonely, and discouraged.

It seemed Maverick knew exactly what to do. He would sit there and lean against her. When she would stop petting for a moment, he would lay his chubby little paw gently on her hand as if to say, “Please pet me some more.” We visited quite a while. Mrs. Johnson was overjoyed. Needless to say, it made my day as well, and also made a lifelong impression on an eleven-year-old youngster.

I guess this is why I do this stuff! The world is full of “Mrs. Johnsons” just waiting for someone to stop and say, “You’re important and I want to spend some time with you.” And a dog can say it so much better than I can!



Meet One of Our Featured Pet Partner Team – Dusty and Lynda Wigal


“Everybody loves Dusty” is the theme song for the Pet Partner Team of Dusty and Lynda Wigal.

On August 30, 2001, I stopped at Williamson County Humane Shelter to see if a puppy could be adopted to be a sister to a fourteen-year-old boxer/beagle called Mandy who is very territorial. After passing cages on two rows, I thought that this was going to be a fruitless effort. And, then, reaching the second cage from the end, there was the most darling puppy. She look at me as I looked at her and a mutual bond was formed.

Holding her, while learning her background of being a stray in Nolensville, she was thin and desperate for food and water and scared when the shelter people picked her up before possibly being hit by a car. After keeping her for seven days to give her previous owners the opportunity to re-claim her, I was fortunate enough to be the first person to see her debut to being adopted. How lucky I was to find her! The previous owners have no idea what they lost in their beautiful, loveable golden retriever/border collie.

It took ten days for Mandy to realize the new puppy was here to stay — just as the shelter man told me it would. Mandy stopped growling and let herself enjoy playing and mentoring our new arrival! What great sisters they are — Dusty has kept Mandy young in spirit and activities and Mandy has given Dusty a sense of belonging.

A new puppy needs a name! After trying out a lot of different ones, when walking with her and seeing the sun shine on her hair, I thought that she looked like she had been dusted with ANGEL DUST — thus her name became DUSTY !!!

As we all know, a puppy needs constant attention, and Dusty was no exception. Nashville Obedience Training Club offered two puppy level classes that we took to socialize and earn her Canine Good Citizen Award.

Starting to volunteer at the shelter’s canine unit, I met Dee Mathews who told me about the twelve week training course through the Delta Society. So a decision needed to be made between taking this course or training with Dusty for border collie trails herding sheep.

Knowing from personal experience the joy my mother received when puppies and dogs visited the assisted living area in he last stages of her life, there was no choice but to help and try to return some of what my mother received. And especially to people whose lives have changed and need attention, diversion, and love. So our team joined Sarah Kloog and Cookie at Manor of Steeplechase and Morningside once a month to visit. One lady sings to Dusty nearly every visit while a male resident relates how Dusty reminds him of his dogs.

The next activity for our team became Project R.E.A.D. This was a great fit for both of us because Dusty’s kind, sweet and smart nature with my background in teaching allows us to help young readers and school children at both Edmondson and Lipscomb Elementary schools every Tuesday. Working with Ms. Dona McIlvain, the reading specialist for both schools, Mr. Wells and Dr. Calton, Principals, respectively, has been an absolute delight!

Dusty and I had the joy of being in the “Read Across America” program for two weeks talking about pet responsibility, how to give snacks safely, health care, and the joys of pet ownership and how they can help the student read better if they read to their own pets. They, also, got the opportunity to pet Dusty since these children did not read to Dusty for the most part. Dusty LOVED all of this attention.

This precious pup/dog who might not have survived puppy hood now is a RAY OF SUNSHINE to students needing help with self-esteem and reading, to children of another culture who couldn’t read English, to children who refused to read aloud when others were present, to an adopted child who needed special help, to children who had dreadful home situations and were now in foster care — all fell in love with Dusty, who made each of these children feel special and help to improve their reading skills.

Both Dusty and I thank Merilee Kelley and Dee Mathues and Delta Society for getting Project R.E.A.D. to being such a successful and rewarding program. We are so thrilled to be a part of this outstanding program.

“Everybody loves Dusty” is so, so true.



erikaMeet One of Our Featured Pet Partner Team – Erika and Linda Brewer. Erika is the animal half of the Pet Partner Team with Linda Brewer


I teach in a very unique high school where all the students know and care about each other and their teachers. Recently, a well-loved student died in a tragic accident on a Friday night. After speaking with my principal, we decided that I should bring my Pet Partner Erika to school early on Monday morning and be there as the students arrived. I was trained as a grief counselor several years ago, but I have only recently started to use my dogs to help people begin the grieving process. As our students arrived, the faculty met them in the parking lot; I had to tell some of my students that their friend had been killed in a ‘freak” accident and reassure them that no drugs or alcohol had been involved. It was a difficult time for all of us. Most of our students are 15 to 18 years old, and many have experienced more losses than most adults have.

Erika worked from 7:30 that Monday morning until 4:00 that afternoon. She did not have a minute all day away from students; when we went out for potty breaks, students went with us. They petted her, the used her as a pillow, they brought her water, they shared their food with her, and they cried into her fur. Never once did she pull away or ask to leave.

When two students curled up against her for comfort, she did not move for over an hour. One student was so devastated that he could not speak without crying. He would go sit all by himself and sob, and then he would come to my room to hug Erika. One the last day of school, almost three months later, he thanked me for bringing her. He apologized for not thanking me sooner, but he had been unable to talk about how he felt until then. He said that having Erika there that day to hug had meant more to him than I would ever know.

Another student had been so upset that her friends had asked me to try to talk to her. Normally a very talkative student, she had withdrawn and would not speak to anyone. She wandered into my class and collapsed into hysterical sobs on the floor just as I was planning to leave for a quick lunch break. Erika went to her immediately and laid her head in the student’s lap. As she stroked Erika’s head, she began to talk, not about the loss of a friend but about the loss of her father who had died a few years earlier. His death had been so painful for her that she had locked those memories away because she could not live with them. I knew that she had attempted suicide more than once, so I had been extremely concerned for her. But as she sat on the floor with Erika and me, she let all those painful emotions out for the first time. As long as she stroked Erika, she could talk. If she stopped touching Erika, she stopped being able to talk. It was a powerful experience for all three of us. It was wonderful to see her become so much stronger in the weeks following that time she spent with Erika and me. She later said that Erika’s understanding had been the key that opened her heart and mind so that she could talk about the most horrible event of her young life and finally begin to heal.



triumph-and-buddyTriumph is the animal half of the Pet Partner Team with Moe Moeller

Triumph’s Story: (as told by Moe)

It’s a story of Triumph, in more ways than one. Triumph is the name of a Siberian Husky found alone and helpless along the side of a country road in Adana, Turkey. Her back legs had been cut off.

Some caring individual, recognizing the spirit and determination to survive in Triumph’s piercing blue eyes, tenderly scooped her up and drove her to the nearest animal shelter.

There the husky met Renin and Armagan, who cleaned her up and nursed her back to health. Friends who knew of the Siberian Rescue Group got busy on the Internet searching worldwide for someone to rescue and permanently care for Triumph.

That’s when Coral from Pennsylvania, Belinda from Maryland and Marion “Moe” Moeller from Tennessee connected via cyberspace to bring Triumph to the United States. “I take dogs in dire need and who are usually due to be put down either because they have been severely abused physically or emotionally,” said Moeller, a canine massage therapist who knew she could help Triumph.

Tom Brady of Total Orthotic and Prosthetic Systems designed and constructed special prosthesis for this special dog. Soon Triumph was up and “running” !!

Triumph has the most gentle, pleasant, loving, grateful personality you could imagine. Triumph has a message to share with everyone,” said Moeller. “She has taught us about sharing, caring, dedication and that good people from all over the world working together for one common goal can accomplish great possibilities.”

redo-of-triumphTriumph’s human partner, Moe, recently had a call from a former customer of mine who remembered Triumph and her prosthesis and the fact that she was working towards becoming a Therapy Dog. Actually the former customer had to go through quite the effort to find Moe and Triumph since Moe had retired and was no longer at the business. But the new owners felt, under the circumstances. that it was OK to give Moe’s number for such a special request. His little 3 year old son had been in an accident and had to have a below knee amputation of his leg. His request was wanting to know if it was possible for Triumph to visit his son. Well, visit she did and was her usual loving self. The boy doesn’t have his prosthesis yet since he is still healing, but Triumph showed him her special “shoes” and how she can walk and told him he would be getting his special “shoes” soon. She also promised to come back when he gets them and they will take a walk together.

She received a new toy and a bag of treats for her visit. This is what this is all about – I think she had a lot of healing for the parents too. Triumph is trained as a dog, and listens patiently while Ryheem reads his new book to her.



Jake is the animal half of the Pet Partner Team with Linda Wright. Jake’s Story:  (as told by Linda)

jakecroppedJake is a big black Lab that came into our life about a year ago.  We had a little dog named Squirt who had been fighting cancer for over a year when he lost his fight in Jan 2003.  I lasted until March without a dog, and then told my husband we had to have another one.  We rescued Jake from a Lab rescue group in March of 2003 when he was about 10 months old.

I had signed up for therapy dog training with Squirt, but when we were called, Squirt was already gone and we had Jake.  However, we had had him for only a month and he was too unruly to pass the evaluation.  We worked with him and he was able to pass in Aug of 2003 and we received our certification during Dec 2003.

During training I realized that Jake is very drawn to children, so we decided to work in the R.E.A.D. program.  At first, we substituted at Park Avenue Elementary in Nashville for Nancy Keen Palmer and her dog Munchkin.   After a time we got our own “kids” to read to Jake at Park Avenue.

We have one child in particular who has won both my and Jake’s heart.  This little boy is very shy and actually afraid of dogs.  The first time he came into the room to read to Jake he just stood by the door and read very quietly.  He wouldn’t even look at me, and there was no way he was getting near Jake.   He would not respond to my questions or comments, just did his reading.  After he was done he would pick out a sticker, if I brought it over to him, and kept Jake away.  After just a few weeks I was able to get him to hold my hand as we gave Jake a treat. Shortly thereafter I finally convinced him to come into the room with Jake.  Now we were on our way.  He was sitting by Jake while he read and even answering my questions.

Then one day he completely surprised me by wanting to pet Jake.  As if he knew that this little boy was afraid of him, Jake just lie there and let himself be petted.  I was so proud of Jake and this special little boy.  Since that time, he comes in and sits by Jake, but won’t pet him again.  I find we take one-step forward and ½ step back, but at least we are making progress.  Last week he asked me if Jake drank water or juice and he gave Jake a treat by himself.  That was a huge step for him.  Now he reads in a louder and more confident voice, and will talk to us.  He is even looking up at me in the eye when he asks his questions.

Jake and I are helping his reading ability, but even better, we are helping his self esteem and confidence.  What a wonderful reward for all of us.  So even though you may think you are not making a difference, even in a small way you really are.