MANSFIELD, TX — Duke, Winston and Max know how to light up a room. They’ve really never met a stranger, and everyone loves them. They seem to bless everyone who gets to spend even the smallest amount of time with them. Although their language is difficult to understand, they always seem to know how to lift the spirits of others. In spite of all the love they give and receive from people of all ages, this trio is not human. Duke, Winston and Max are furry, four-legged canines.
These dogs are registered with Pet Partners. Pet Partners is an organization made up of volunteers who come with their trained pets to a variety of places to help with a myriad of tasks, most of which boost morale and brighten the lives of the people with whom they come in contact. Needless to say, talking to a dog and expecting an understandable answer is impossible. That was not the case when talking with the dogs’ owners.
Pat Jolley retired after a long career at Texas Christian University and like most retirees, did not want to spend her time just sitting at home. She almost immediately began looking for something to do. Her neighbor, Abby Wilson, was already involved in Pet Partners, and Pat decided that could be her niche also. “I went looking for a Greyhound dog and rescued Winston,” Pat said. “After two sessions of obedience school, where Winston earned a Canine Good Citizenship Award, he was ready to go.”
Pat and Winston make seven visits a month, most visits last about an hour. Visiting locations include the Mansfield Nursing Home, The Plaza, Horizon Bay Senior Care Center and Walnut Creek Assisted Living. “Some of the residents have had animals, and they miss them,” Pat said. “They want to feel that warmth from another living thing. They like that unconditional love dogs are so known for giving.”
Winston provides a nice break in the day for most residents, and they look forward to his regular visits. Pat is basically anonymous and is usually referred to simply as Winston’s owner.
“The gratitude I receive is incredible.” Pat shared. “I don’t believe I’ve ever received as many thanks as I do during Winston’s visits. It makes it all worth it.”
Steve Burn is the proud owner of Max, a Chow mix. Max was a rescue dog, and from the start it was very apparent that he loved people. Steve and Max got involved in pet therapy, and once they started they haven’t looked back.
Max’s favorite activity is taking part in the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) Program. This is an activity where Max goes into elementary schools and helps children who are having difficulty learning to read. “The children react to Max,” Steve explained. “They don’t mind reading to him. He won’t offer criticism, and it helps them gain confidence.”
Max has also received some rave reviews from the places he has visited. “Max knows how to get a smile, a pat and his favorite — a hindquarter rubdown,” said Teresa Wilks of Isle at Watercrest. Teresa refers to Pet Partners as “a wonderful program that is touching the lives of both the young and the old.”
Catherine Le Breton of Sterling House in Mansfield feels Max is having a tremendous impact on therapy residents. “He has made a wonderful difference in so many of our residents’ lives,” Catherine stated. “His sweet and loving nature is a comfort to everyone he meets.”
Steve pointed out not every dog can take an active role with Pet Partners. Each potential animal has to be evaluated. According to Steve, the criteria includes how well they obey and how they respond to unexpected stimuli. “Every visit has the potential of an unexpected reaction. It’s very important to know without a doubt your dog will be consistently calm,” Steve explained. “You just can’t risk it.”
Abby Wilson is the proud owner of Duke, a beautiful Golden Retriever. Some time ago, Abby was working in the accounting department at Health South in Arlington. While there, she had several opportunities to observe a Pet Therapy group that visited. She always enjoyed observing the dogs with patients and remembered how the animals made a huge impact on a particular paraplegic patient. She decided that was something she would enjoy doing.
Not long after retirement, Abby trained her Australian Shepherd, Shorty, for obedience, and then they qualified to be registered with Pet Partners. Sadly enough, she lost Shorty to cancer. And not too long after her loss, a vet called to tell her about a rescue dog named Duke.
Like Steve and Pat, Abby takes her dog to visit nursing homes and memory care facilities, and she and Duke are also involved in the R.E.A.D. program. Recently, Abby and Duke also became involved in a new program for autistic children at Anna Daulton May Elementary School. And interestingly enough, Abby and Duke, along with Max and Steve, Winston and Pat, and another member of this Paws with Partners group, Kristina Forney and her dog, Ziva, also visited with the students at The University of Texas at Arlington the last week in December.
“The program is called PAWS for Finals,” Abby explained. “Students often get stressed out preparing for their final exams, and we’re sent in to provide a much needed break.” All the dogs and their owners were allowed to go into the library while students were studying.
Pat, Steve and Abby all clearly love what they do and want to keep doing it as long as they can. “For me, it’s all about the satisfaction of seeing people getting a break from their life,” Steve admitted. In addition, Steve feels like he has an obligation to bring Max around. “I’ve got to show this dog. He’s awesome, and he’s making a difference in the lives of others.”
“I love being Winston’s owner,” Pat confessed. “Pet Partners is very rewarding. I feel like we’re giving back to the community in some small way.”
Abby, who is an active member of St. Greg’s Episcopal Church in Mansfield, considers Pet Partners her ministry. “I feel like God has directed me here,” Abby said. “I keep getting older, but my dog makes me feel young.” Two other teams within the Pet Partner group include Linda Milburn and her dog, Tatum; and Marsha Huey and her two adorable Poodles.
Many people have a memory of a special pet from their childhood. As they get older, that childhood pet can be desperately missed as life gets tougher. But have no fear, because Pat, Winston, Steve, Max, Abby and Duke are here.
Written by Rick Hope.
Editor’s Note: For further information, contact Abby Wilson at www.petpartners.org.