Written by Peggy Frezon for Lincoln Pet Culture. Peggy Frezon is contributing editor of All Creatures magazine, and author of books about the human-animal bond including Faithfully Yours, and the forthcoming book for kids, The Dog in the Dentist Chair (Paraclete Press, January 2019). Visit her at www.peggyfrezon.com.
Ernest, a big shaggy golden retriever, had been kept in a cage all day most of his life. His previous owner didn’t even say goodbye to him when she surrendered him to the rescue group. Instead, she said, “I didn’t take good care of him, but who cares?”
Ernest was nine years old when we adopted him. He used to be called something different, but we always rename our rescue dogs—new life, new name. He was so happy to be free. But more than that, he couldn’t get enough of the human touch. He wanted us to pat him ALL the time. Whenever we took our hand off him, he barked. As you can imagine, I didn’t get much else done for a time. Eventually he felt more secure and comfortable that we weren’t going to leave him or lock him away, and he stopped barking. That’s when I knew he’d make a great therapy dog.
We worked with Ernest to get him certified with TDI (Therapy Dogs International). His trainer said he was born to be a therapy dog. He proudly wears his red therapy dog bandanna. He’s worked in nursing homes, libraries and colleges.
Perhaps his favorite place to visit is a first-grade classroom. The first day he went in, the kids were so excited they couldn’t stay in their seats. They all ran up and hugged him. Of course, Ernest thought this was great. The teacher, Ms. Dooley, had everything set up for him. He laid on a special mat while the kids came up, one by one, and read to him. Some of the kids went right up and put their arms around him while they read. Others were a bit anxious and kept a bit of distance. Ernest didn’t mind. He nearly fell asleep he was so relaxed. They all showed him the pictures in the books. When he was done, one little boy whispered in his ear, “Please come back.”
Of course, we did. The next time they read him stories that they’d written themselves about his visit. “Ernest is yellow. Ernest is big. Ernest is soft as cotton.” They wrote. “Ernest is my best friend, and I’m his,” a girl wrote. Sometimes they give him pictures or notes. Ernest gave them trading cards with his picture on the front.
Now Ernest visits them once a month. The dog who lived most of his life locked up in a cage is now free to give his love to a classroom full of kids who love him back.
And he gets patted just as much as he could ever want.
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