By Steve Dale
"Wha hoo" says Lucy, our
miniature Australian Shepherd, as 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 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 laugher. 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, and to call 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
I tried telling a few
jokes, and told the boy Lucy likes jokes and will laugh:
Q: Why shouldn't you tell a secret to pigs?
A: Because pigs are squealers.
time I told a joke, Lucy, would howl "Wha hoo."
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 knew dozens of little
tricks, from "playing dead" to jumping through hoops.
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 Michael Jordan, then with the Chicago Bulls and another was a photo of
four weeks the boy achieved the assigned goal from the medical professionals -
which was to call Lucy from other side of the room. The following week, the boy
called her so often - we had to stop him; he was exhausting poor Lucy. The
medical staff and the boy's family were amazed.
The week after that, the little boy wasn't there.
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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."
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.
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.
wasn't a dog who liked to snuggle, except for when she was
working- and her job was to sit next to sick child - which she would do as long
as asked (and given an occasional cookie).
Lucy's successes in animal assisted therapy were dramatic, sometimes more
subtle. No doubt there are families who still tell stories of the little dog
who made them smile, or helped them on their way to recovery.
originally wanted a bigger dog, "a man's dog" like a Lab mix from a shelter, or
an Australian Shepherd or Greyhound. My wife wanted a lap-sized dog. She grew
up with a Pekingese, or sought a Shih-Tzu or even a Chihuahua-mix. At a rare
breed dog show, we saw a Miniature Australian Shepherd (also called North
American Shepherd), which was then a new breed. Robin and I looked at one
another and instantly realized, I can get my Aussie and she can get her small
came to us as an 8-week-old blue merle puppy, and she was beautiful, and we
quickly learned dramatic and emotional. We found that out when a door closed on
then tiny Lucy, hitting her in the rear end, which couldn't have hurt her - but
it did surprise her. She began to limp. Well the door hit her in her hindquarters,
not her front right leg which she was holding up. As a puppy she learned to over-dramatize for attention.
all Lucy - named for Lucille Ball - made people laugh.
I can't count how many
times with a group of children, I'd ask them to holler out a language, any
language - German, Swahili, whatever... My contention was that Lucy could speak
them all. And somehow, without any discernable cue from me, Lucy would
"Wha-hoo." as they'd offer up a language. The children always laughed, but never
could figure out how Lucy did it. I honestly didn't know either.
was euthanized May 2, 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.
honor Lucy, and her dedication to animal assisted therapy, the American Humane
has created a fund
that will provide assistance and recognition for other animal assisted therapy dogs
like her. Contribute to Lucy's Fund
today to help create an animal assisted therapy Hero Dog Award in her honor. Through
Lucy's award her legacy will be celebrated forever, and other heroic dogs like
her will be celebrated in the future.
Media Services, Steve Dale
Tags: Chenny Troupe, dogs at rehabilitaiton facilities, dogs improve health, dogs in hospitals, Lucille Ball, Lucy, miniature Australian shepherd, North American Shepherd, physical therapists, Rehabilitation Instittute of Chicago, Robin Dale, Steve Dale, Steve Dale archives