Today, we bring you a story about Lucy, a pure-bred Golden Retriever who shared her first home with University of Illinois fraternity brothers, and Pam Smith, DTN Crops Technology Senior Editor.
Together, Lucy and Pam partner as a therapy team for Pet Partners, the national leader in demonstrating and promoting the health and wellness benefits of animal-assisted therapy, activities and education.
This journey began six years ago when Pam’s son, Miles Henderson, and several Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity brothers bought her as a puppy. “I’m convinced Lucy began her therapy dog career the day those boys picked her out of the litter,” Pam wrote in an article for a local publication. “The tales this dog could tell range from the thrill of landing first jobs to the agonies of lost love. She may have been a frat dog, but the devotion and care the boys gave this red-haired beauty was remarkable.”
With the young men graduating and launching careers, they voted to give Lucy to Pam. “Miles kept bringing her home and I fell in love with her,” Pam said. “Lucy doesn’t know a stranger and it didn’t take long to realize people responded to her in unique ways. When she graduated from college and her leash passed to me, it was also clear she missed the excitement and needed a job.”
They started basic obedience school and then passed their Pet Partners exams. Testing included adapting to a nursing home environment of wheelchairs, loud noise and interacting with strangers. “Having a good dog isn’t enough,” Pam said. “There are guidelines for visits that cover what collar Lucy can wear, her diet, grooming and how long visits last so she doesn’t become overly tired or stressed.”
Lucy and Pam staff a booth Saturdays at a farmer’s market at Richland Community College in their hometown of Decatur, Ill. “We have combined a mobile Little Free Library with the therapy dogs—so children (and adults) attending the farmer’s market can read to the dog, just get free hugs and take home a free book from our library.”
Sundays, Lucy and Pam visit a nursing home on a weekly basis. They also participate in an area school reading program during the weekday lunch hour once a month.
Pet Partners teams visit with patients in recovery, people with intellectual disabilities, seniors living with Alzheimer’s, students, veterans with PTSD, and those approaching end of life. Case in point, Pam and Lucy were called in to be with a patient facing the end of life when he called out for Lucy by name. “Lucy laid her head down on the pillow next to him in some of his last moments,” Pam said.
“Elderly really seem to respond to animals. They will often relate stories of a favorite pet or other memories. Many have farm connections and enjoy discussing what is happening in the field or reliving those times.
“I believe there’s also something about the touch and having a connection to something living and positive. When Lucy smiles at them (yes, she smiles) or wags her tail, I always point out that they made her happy. The pride I see in their eyes that they made this happen is my therapy,” she said.
Pam experiences meaningful moments when children read to her and Lucy too. “The dog doesn’t pass judgment on the reader. One little boy said, ‘Lucy knows how I feel without me telling her.’ Lucy is like a person – with a small child, she’ll drop down on the floor to be on the same level. Children want to be with a dog and read to them.”
Lucy seems to have a special affinity for handicapped persons and senses those with special needs. Pam describes such occasions as little miracles. “We have had instances when non-verbal nursing home residents have said her name loud and clear – surprising the staff, who had previously never heard them speak.”