Maverick

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!

Dusty

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

lynda-dusty-boy_orig

“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.

Erika

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

BREWER’S TRUE STORIES OF ANIMAL THERAPY

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

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 R.E.A.D.ing dog, and listens patiently while Ryheem reads his new book to her.

Jake

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.

Swoosh

This article originally appeared at https://news.vanderbilt.edu/2014/12/11/vumc%E2%80%99s-swoosh-takes-home-top-dog-pet-therapy-award/


A tiny Vanderbilt University Medical Center volunteer has received a giant award from a national organization.

Swoosh, a 7-year-old toy Pomeranian, and his owner Michelle Thompson of Franklin, Tennessee, received the Animal Medical Center’s Top Dog award in New York City on Tuesday.

The Animal Medical Center is a not-for-profit hospital for companion animals and an institute for veterinary education and research.

Active volunteers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center since 2012, Thompson and Swoosh visit most often with pediatric cancer patients at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. They are both part of a national clinical trial of therapy dogs in pediatric oncology called the Canines and Childhood Cancer Study. The Vanderbilt portion of the study is being led by Mary Jo Gilmer, Ph.D., MBA, RN-BC, of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.

Thompson and Swoosh have been a certified animal therapy team for more than three years. Animal-assisted therapy dates back to the 1700s, but has been widely recognized in the United States since 1969.

Patient Bobby Harris pets Swoosh at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. (photo by John Russell)

“Before others recognized Michelle and Swoosh as ‘Top Dog’ award winners, they were always our top dog team,” said Stephanie Van Dyke, director of Child Life and Volunteer Services for Children’s Hospital. “She and Swoosh are integral team members. Not only do they exhibit the heart of a servant through volunteer service, with every visit they help reduce stress and anxiety and normalize the health care experience for children and their families. They motivate and inspire.

“They personalize health care experiences. They complement the medical treatment so that the whole child is being cared for — physically, emotionally and developmentally. When we speak of a healing environment, we speak of Michelle and Swoosh. We could not be more proud of this accomplishment and this special recognition,” Van Dyke said.

Thompson said that patients at Children’s Hospital love Swoosh. “He sits in their laps; they pet him, talk to him and give him treats. Mostly, he’s just a warm little fluffy thing who brings some comfort to those around him,” she said.

“I trained Swoosh to be calm. The breed can be hyper, insecure and yippy, but I’ve worked with him since he was a puppy. He’s smart. Not every dog can be a therapy dog, just like every person couldn’t be a nurse.”

Swoosh and Thompson are certified by Therapy ARC (Animals Reaching Clients), which trains volunteers and evaluates them with their pets so they can visit patients/clients in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice and physical therapy centers, schools, libraries and many other facilities.

Media Inquiries:
Nancy Humphrey, (615) 322-4747
nancy.humphrey@vanderbilt.edu

Ans

ansAns is the animal half of the Pet Partner Team with Liz Goldman. 

Ans Story:  (as told by Liz)

My parents had an elderly German Shepherd.  I thought it would be good for them to get another dog before they lost Sissy, so I went to Patty Ryan at Happy Tales and described what I wanted.  We talked about the good luck I had with the two I got from Animal Control, and we decided I would “rescue” one instead of taking one that was already rescued and placed in a foster.  Patty called Debby Leddy, described what I wanted,  said to find one meeting those criteria that they were about to put down, and told her we were on the way over.  Debby brought Annie out, and I was smitten.  It was her last day; she was scheduled to be euthanized that afternoon.  My parents ended up with another dog–I couldn’t let Ans go.

Ans is a  Delta-certified Animal Assisted Activities/Animal Assisted Therapy dog, who works with me in residential Alzheimer’s/dementia facilities and Adult Day Services programs. She is a big, fuzzy Golden/St. Bernard mix, who knows absolutely no “trick,” but she is affectionate, well behaved, and her looks alone are entertaining.

In the residential facilities we visit, many of the clients have very little communication and mobility skills, and it is sometimes difficult to know how much effect we have.  Occasionally something happens that convinces me that we do make a difference.  The following is one such incident.

Al is one of our special petters. He has almost no communication with people, but he talks a little to the dogs and obviously loves them–he pets for as long as I’ll stay.

Last month on one of our visits we went in to the dining area in Al’s pod, and a young woman was there with a violin (“fiddle” in Tennessee), sitting next to Al and entertaining the residents with bluegrass music. She finished playing just as we walked in, and two things happened: Al reached over and, very carefully, took the violin from her, and he spotted Ans.

Al’s face lighted up, and he said the only thing I’ve ever heard him say: “Hello Tiger.” “Tiger” is what he calls any of the dogs. He seemed not to know whether to pay attention to Ans or to the violin, but he touched the strings with the bow a couple of times. Ans has a funny way of cocking her head when she is puzzled, and she did this when she heard the sound of the violin.

The young woman picked up on it and had the presence of mind to say: “He wants you to play for him.” (Everybody thinks Ans is a “him.”) Al grinned. He tucked the violin under his chin and began to play Red River Valley. Not bluegrass and not concert–but poignant and haunting, with much expression. Who would have known!The woman was as surprised as I.

Ans sat down in front of Al and cocked her head from side to side, fascinated by the sound. The woman said: “Oh, he loves your playing!” Al beamed and played on, totally focused on Ans. “Come and sit by my side if you love me, do not hasten to bid me adieu….” no words, but we all understood.

Ans got tired of sitting and cocking her head, and she went over and lay down on Al’s feet. Al played on, oblivious to everything except Ans on his feet. Ans started snoring.

Staff and another dog team heard the music and came in. We were all entranced. It must have gone on for fifteen or twenty minutes–Red River Valley, over and over. Al’s expression was beyond description. Ans snored through it all on Al’s feet.

This is what keeps me going back.

NOTE: This was posted in March, 2004.  Al died several weeks after it was written.  In two of our last three visits before he died, Ans and I were not able to rouse him.  On the last, however, he was quite alert, and we had a conversation about his playing the violin.  He said he learned to play in his high school orchestra.

Logan, Zep, Silver, Duncan and Jenyfer Lindahl

Logan, Zep, Silver, and Duncan’s Story: (as told by Jenyfer)

Five years ago I adopted Logan, a flop-eared, 5 year old (we thought), big, and loving German Shepherd from the local pound. She had outstayed her welcome there and was on the Put to Sleep list. The kind people there kept stalling for time for her.

I had just moved to Tennessee and promptly settled in to, not just a wonderful new life with my new family but, a serious case of depression. I went on Petfinder to find a dog (preferably a Shepherd) that needed me as much as I needed him/her. It was love at first sight with Logan: a beautiful, skinny girl who had nice manners and a gentle temperament. Training her, fattening her up, and helping her settle in not only helped us bond but helped my depression lift. If being with her made me feel so much better, imagine how it could make others feel, I thought.

My mother-in-law’s retirement home had regular visits from therapy dogs and, after some research, thought TherapyARC would be perfect for Logan and me.

We started the TherapyARC program in April 2002 and graduated in August. She and I learned a lot together, had so much fun, and couldn’t wait to begin our “visits.”

Sadly, Logan died November 1, 2002, after a brief illness and before we could get started.

While Logan was sick, a TherapyARC teacher, Linda Brewer, called to tell me that a neighbor dog was headed back to the pound due to his owner’s divorce. Would I be interested? Not then, but a week after Logan passed and I really “needed” another Shepherd to love I was ready to adopt Zep. He’s now a seven-year-old, 92 pound bundle of beautiful black and tan fun who still goes through puppyhood regularly. And Linda Brewer is his proud godmother (plus now a dear friend in addition to instructor!)

Zep quickly became an important member of the family and we found that, thanks to Linda, he already possessed good manners and was quick to learn. Thinking that he would make the perfect Delta Dog, we couldn’t wait to start the program. But first, he needed a friend.

Back to Petfinders and a trip to a pet adoption later, we brought home Silver. She, too, is a flop-eared Shepherd, black and silver colored, and about five years old.

It was soon clear, however, that our Princess Silver enjoyed spending her days ignoring Zep and bossing him around rather than playing with him. But her temperament and unusual looks plus her intelligence made her a good Delta candidate.

Zep graduated in May and Silver in July. After distributing Press Kits and talking with local schools, senior centers, and “test driving” other types of facilities, we decided that 21st Century Adult Day Services, an organization that works with adults with brain injuries, would be a good place to visit.

In June of 2003, Zep and I made our first official trip to 21st Century. I was a little anxious, primarily because I was not familiar working in this environment. Within a few minutes all my nervousness went out the door because we were so busy saying hello and having so many people come to introduce themselves. It was overwhelming, but a warm, welcoming beginning!

Zep and I met all kinds of people that day: Mr. B., a survivor of a stroke, petted Zep non-stop; T., a young woman in a wheelchair who talked about her two dogs while massaging Zep’s ears; and many others. The staff were friendly and seemed to enjoy the visit.

There were a few who really didn’t seem to want to visit with us and that was ok, too. One gentleman, J., seemed a bit hostile. One young man, R., totally ignored us. And F. and F., the two board-game-playing men were not interested. Hmmm I thought. Maybe this may not be as easy and warm-fuzzies as I originally imagined. For the most part our visit went well. Zep enjoyed the attention and we made some people smile. Next week may be different.

Anyway, I continued to visit every week; some days bringing Zep and other times Silver.

It became a game with some of the clients: can you remember which dog this is? Who do you think I’ll bring next time? The mental stimulation and break in routine these games provided was welcomed and the staff was so appreciative.

The clients also “taught” the dogs tricks: “sit,” “down,” and “say hello (raising a paw)” gave a feeling of importance and accomplishment and the look on the faces of some of these people were wonderful beyond words.

There is one gentleman there, Mr. J., who is confined to a wheelchair and is in failing health. He keeps to himself, hardly ever talks to anybody, and very rarely participates in the activities. Every Wednesday though, he saves part of his lunch to share with the dogs, including leftovers for the dogs left at home. We always enjoy hearing stories about his dog and look forward to the treats.

One day in March, Silver and I went to the Center and noticed the door was closed and the lights were off out back. Odd. The next thing we know, all the lights came on, everyone started clapping, and the surprise “Thank You” party for us was in full swing! These people, many in wheelchairs with severe physical and neurological difficulties, had all made greeting cards for the dogs and me and even made up and sang a song about us.

This past March, my husband Joe and I rescued and fostered a Shepherd/Husky mix named Duncan. He was a scrawny, matted, hookworm-positive dog who was chained up for four years and whose hips had atrophied so much that the vet originally thought they were dysplastic. But what a sweet, gentle fellow. He longed for a family. Joe fell in love with him and thought we should keep him (this really was his idea, not mine!) Duncan is another flop-eared dog, four years old, and about as adorable as they come. Well, you can guess the rest. He became a Delta dog just two weeks ago and we can’t wait for our paperwork to go through so I can take him to the Center!

And by the way: J. the young man who seemed hostile, taught me how to play checkers and is usually the first one at the door to help me with the dogs; F. & F., the checker-playing men, now enjoy trading jokes and barbs with me each week. It’s difficult for me to try and stay ahead of them!

We lost a client to illness and Silver and I were there when everyone got the bad news.

There are so many stories; most of them funny and happy but a few sad that I could share. It’s been a year and a half since we started visiting and I’m looking forward to more time with them. Along with helping in the community, I enjoy being a Pet Partner for other reasons. The dogs and I have made “public appearances” at many social events; promoted shelter/rescue/older dogs as wonderful companions and great future Delta Dogs (recycled dogs!); helped educate people on pet care and obedience training; and have made so many great friends.

Maverick & Rodney

Meet 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!

Dusty’s Story

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.

Dusty practices her R.E.A.D.ing