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Tue, Dec. 10

Therapy dogs just seem to know...

Top, Toni Tennille and another "Captain," and Firefighter Dave Lattman and his new friend "Buster."

Top, Toni Tennille and another "Captain," and Firefighter Dave Lattman and his new friend "Buster."

I've written a couple of recent stories about therapy dogs, and their ability to comfort those in distress continually amazes me.

One story about '70s singing great Toni Tennille ran in the Daily Courier. I first met Toni when she and her husband, Daryl, of the famous duo Captain and Tennille, moved to Prescott and became good friends with some of my Australian Shepherd show buddies. She owned and loved two Aussies at the time, and began to attend our club dog shows. Of course, the first thing I had to do was meet Toni and introduce her to my Captain. Captain the Aussie dog, that is!

I see Toni at most of the dog shows, and the occasional agility trial, and I'm always impressed that she pitches in wherever she's needed and she's always smiling. In fact, in that crucible of nerves - the SHOW RING - where the most seasoned handlers are trying to put it all together and present the best side of themselves and their dogs to the judge, Toni is still smiling! I just want to give her a prize for enjoying it so much.

In May 2008, Toni lost her beloved 8 ½ Aussie "Hubble" to cancer. Shortly after, friend Kathy lost her Aussie "Moon," also slightly over 8, to the same cancer, Hemangiosarcoma. Moon was one of the first dogs in the Pets Are Warm Support (PAWS) therapy dog program at Yavapai Regional Medical Center. Toni later fell in love with and took home one of Moon's last pups, a big blue merle dog named Smoky.

Now Toni and Smoky are a fixture at YRMC as well, and I was amused to hear this lady whose songs are instantly recognizable relate how people are so focused on Smoky that only about one of 8 says, "You look familiar!" reads her ID badge, and connects the dots.

Toni loves people, and truly enjoys her therapy work. She told me that she particularly loves seeing the whole dynamic of a room change when the dogs come in. For a few minutes, she said, people can forget that they are in the hospital, and just soak up the warm comfort of a loving dog.

So well does this dynamic work that the Trauma Intervention Program, TIP, which provides support at such events as fires, car accidents, and even the recent sweat lodge tragedy in Sedona, is in the process of bring therapy dogs into their organization. They didn't have to look far for candidates - current TIP volunteers offered up a whole crew of comforting canines for training!

I have no doubt this will be a hit. When I went to interview for the story, David and Una Loge arrived with their very well-trained Golden Retriever. I was smitten. "Buster" is a rescue that the Loges told me was tied to a tree for the first three years of his life - no training, no socialization, just a bit of food and water tossed out to him. He is now 8 and you couldn't find a more loving, laid back, lovely dog. Part of the training involved the dogs getting exposure to fire engines, sirens, and police cars. Buster wasn't fazed.

When Mayer firefighter Dave Lattman showed up in his full turnouts and began to pet the dogs, Buster edged in attentively. But when Lattman began to talk about a dog he and his wife had recently lost to cancer, Buster knew just what to do. He snuggled right up to Lattman and reached up to give him a big kiss.

How did Buster know? I think he must have sensed Lattman's distress and did what these dogs do best - offer comfort.

I was at a recent dog club meeting, and among the members was a lady whose husband recently died. I had our young pup Lili with me, and I was amazed to watch this dynamic as the lady reached over, picked up the pup, and just held her. This usually very active puppy seemed to sense that this was a time to settle in and offer some warm puppy love!

If you have enjoyed the comfort of a special therapy or service dog, please email me. I'd love to hear your story!

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