“Wha hoo” says Lucy, our miniature Australian Shepherd, as she walked into the large gymnasium-sized room at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Lucy spent eight years at the direction of medical professionals to help stroke, spinal cord injury and burn injury victims as a part of an animal assisted therapy (AAT) program. When Lucy entered a room everyone knew it, as she announced her entrance. I was embarrassed and worked to correct this attention-seeking behavior for a time. But it was an effort in futility. Lucy’s “Wha hoo” sparked laughter. What could I do?
Once our animal assisted therapy assignment was to help a little boy – about 12 years old – to better use his voice by calling Lucy from the other side of the large room. Thing is, the boy was afraid of dogs. Why would he ever want to call a dog who he was afraid of? I tried telling a few jokes, and told the boy Lucy liked jokes and would laugh:
Q: Why shouldn’t you tell a secret to pigs?
A: Because pigs are squealers.
Each time I told a joke, Lucy, would howl “Wha hoo.” The jokes didn’t make the boy laugh, but Lucy did. And within 10 minutes, Lucy somehow broke the ice and the boy quietly began to ask Lucy to “sit” or “roll over.” He was amazed that she listened to him. Lucy visited the Rehab Institute weekly, and each week the boy seemed to gain more confidence and have more fun. We were told he had two photos in his room, one was of Michael Jordan and another was a photo of Lucy.
During one visit we found that the little boy was no longer there. My wife Robin and I were worried because sometimes, in truth, the stories don’t always have happy endings. One of the physical therapists came up to us in tears. We thought, ‘Oh no.” She walked right by Robin and me, and went straight to Lucy with a cookie, and said “thank you.” She then hugged us, and tearfully told us the little boy went home much sooner than expected; she credited Lucy.
The wonders of animal assisted therapy are mind-boggling but definitive. No one knows how dogs like Lucy can wiggle their way into the hearts of people and somehow achieve success when medical professionals cannot. Lucy died peacefully today, just a few weeks shy of her 16th birthday. Our veterinarian commented, “She was lucky to have you and Robin.” Actually, we were lucky to have the little funny dog who made people laugh.
To honor Lucy and her dedication to animal assisted therapy, American Humane Association has created a fund that will provide assistance and recognition for other AAT dogs just like her. Contribute to Lucy’s Fund today to help us create the Hero Dog Award. Through Lucy’s award we’ll honor her legacy and forever celebrate the amazing contributions AAT and other heroic dogs just like her provide, through the power of the human-animal bond. Our goal is to raise an initial $25,000. Robin and I along with my friends at Pet World Radio are kicking off Lucy’s campaign with an initial contribution of $2,800. Please help us honor our special dog and help us all to memorialize the incredible efforts of these amazing animals.