A therapy dog speaks out

By Benny Huckleberry as told to Liz Hoffmann | Jun 21, 2019

I don't think I've ever mentioned that I’m a certified therapy dog. I’m a pup of many talents and beyond writing this column, I do therapy. It all started a few years ago. My human likes to volunteer and help people, so she took me and my German Shepherd “sister,” Ilsa, to get trained. We took classes every week and learned how to be calm around all types of people, around wheelchairs and crutches, and on various types of floor surfaces. If you’ve never been on rubber, or polished concrete, or slick sheet vinyl, the different textures can throw you. Add to that the elevators! Those were the hardest things for me to accept and I still don’t understand them. You walk into a small area and the doors close, and then the floors or walls (I’m not sure which) start moving? And then the doors suddenly open, and you’re somewhere else? Very strange and stressful. But we both learned to accept and go with it, trusting my human, who seemed cool and relaxed. We take a lot of our cues from her.

Ilsa and I completed the course work and then we were ready to take the final exam. We passed with flying colors, graduated as certified therapy dogs and that was the start of our careers. We’d visit nursing homes and my human would bring us into the physical therapy room or community area. We’d walk around and interact with all the patients. I remember one time when almost every person was sitting in a wheelchair. Ilsa is taller than me, and so she would put her head in each person's lap or rest it on their knee. They loved it! I would wiggle my butt with vigorous tail wagging, but truth be told, Ilsa was the bigger crowd-pleaser. She’s adopted like me, but she's not a mutt.

She's a purebred Shepherd that was imported from Germany, and then mistreated and dumped in a city shelter. My mom got her out of there and gave her all the love and kindness that she needed to heal. She’s all better now and is beautiful, looking very much like a big, black wolf. Not at all like me. I just look cute!

As fate would have it, eight months or so after we got certified, my human's mother had a stroke. My human found her collapsed in her apartment and called 911. That started a two-year journey in and out of hospitals and nursing homes until my human grandma passed. We were there every step of the way when we could be. We went weekly to visit her, and also brought good cheer to the other patients as well. We were even a big hit with the staff! And we helped our human a lot, too, since it’s not easy being a caretaker. I guess when you do a kind thing for others, you never know when it will come back to help you. If our human hadn’t gotten us certified to help others, we never could have helped her when she needed it most.

Which leads me to my point. While having a dog is not for everyone, I am very proud to be a canine! We do so much to serve and protect and love! We are therapy dogs, bomb-sniffing dogs, guide dogs, herding dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, etc. We all do the very best we can to help our humans. And while it makes me really sad that so many of us end up in shelters, I’m hoping that will change someday soon. We really are man and woman’s best friend.

With love for you, Benny H.

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