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Retired Show Dog Moves into Pet Therapy

When human beings retire, the sky is the limit to what exciting and fun activities they tackle. But what is available for a show dog who retires at three years of age from the ring of competition? What’s next? For champion Benjamin, his human mother knew exactly what was the next step in this blue merle collie’s life — pet therapy.

Becoming a Pet Therapy Dog

pet therapyDuring his years as a show dog, the accolades had piled up for Benjamin: Canadian Champion, Grand American Champion and best in breed a number of times. Gail Currie knew Benjamin was ready and willing for a new challenge. “It started with an initial evaluation as to whether Benjamin had the temperament and attitude to be a pet therapy dog,” said Gail who happens to have a total of five other collies at home. “After he passed this first step with flying colors, Benjamin trained intensively.”

To become a pet therapy dog, Benjamin learned to leave food (and other items such as medication) on the floor, not bark excessively and not be startled or distracted by unusual noises, odors and medical equipment like wheelchairs. According to Gail, pet therapy dogs need to have a gentle personality and remain calm when strangers pet them.

The duo makes pet therapy visits at Sturgill Hospice House as well as assisted living facilities in Hernando County like Forest Oaks of Spring Hill. Gail and Benjamin also participate in many veteran events such as one sponsored by the Hernando Chamber of Commerce and the One Community Now Stand Down for veterans event in Pasco County. They also participate in “Dogs in Courtin Judge Lynn Tepper’s Family and Dependency Court on Thursdays.

When not making pet therapy visits, Gail breeds, raises, trains and shows what else — collies!  She also volunteers for the Collie Health Foundation as membership chairman. “In representing the Collie Health Foundation, I travel to the Collie Club of America’s National Dog Show as well as Sunnybank — a gathering of all collies and collie enthusiasts held in Wayne, New Jersey each August,” added Gail.

The Difference Pet Therapy Makes for Patients

pet therapyWhen they make their pet therapy visits every week, Gail witnesses first-hand how Benjamin’s presence affects patients, families and staff. “It is touching to see a patient who is living in a memory care unit recognize Benjamin as a collie. They call us over so they can pet ‘Lassie.’ Every visit is a worthwhile opportunity to make a difference.”

Both Gail and Benjamin enjoy volunteering via pet therapy and have been doing so for the past three years. “Our visits bring smiles to patients. It is so rewarding to see frowns replaced with smiles — I know we make everyone’s day brighter,” shared Gail.

Rewards of Volunteering

At Chapters Health, we believe there is no volunteer opportunity more rewarding than helping at one of our hospices. There are many ways to volunteer with Chapters Health and our affiliates and not just by making pet therapy visits. Other volunteer opportunities include patient and family support, grief support and other roles such as making phone calls to patients, copying, filing and helping with mailings.

Please consider becoming a volunteer for Chapters Health or any of our affiliatesGood Shepherd Hospice, HPH Hospice  and LifePath Hospice. It’s as easy as filling out an application, just click here. Or visit our opportunities page for more information. We’d love to have you, and as you learned from Gail and Benjamin, volunteering can be quite rewarding for both the human and furry sidekick!

At Chapters Health System, every day is devoted to educating our patients and keeping them in the place they call home. We are dedicated to ensuring that patients, young and old alike, and their families are able to make educated decisions about important healthcare matters. For more information, please call our helpful Chapters Health team at 1.866.204.8611 or send an email to [email protected]

About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Corporate Communications for Chapters Health System, manages all content and communications for the not-for-profit organization.

Favorite Television and Movie Dogs

If you had to put pen to paper and create a top 10 list (think back to David Letterman and his infamous top 10 lists), what would be your favorite dogs in television and movies? The following are some of our favorites at Chapters Health.

Number 10: Hooch in “Turner and Hooch” — this classic buddy flick starred Tom Hanks as Turner and a French mastiff (Dogue de Bordeaux) really named Beasley as Hooch. There were actually a total of four dogs that played Hooch in the film. And in keeping with the legal disclaimer in most films (you know the one: no animals were harmed in the making of this film), a Hooch replica was created and used in a tragic scene toward the end of the movie.

Number 9: Scooby Doo in “Scooby Doo” — even though Scooby Doo is not an actual dog but a cartoon character, who doesn’t love this iconic Great Dane? Created by Hanna-Barbera, Scooby Doo and his human sidekick, Shaggy, were loosely based on the comedy team of Abbott and Costello.

Number 8: Frank in “Men in Black” series — although a pug on screen, Frank was also an alien in this movie starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. The real name of the dog that played this Remoolian was Mushu. And if you think the headliners were the only stars that received royal treatment, you would be wrong. Frank/Mushu had his own hotel room and dined on steak and chicken courtesy of room service.

Number 7: Buddy in the “Air Bud” movies — the star of this series of movies was a Golden Retriever capable of playing basketball on an elite level. Buddy was the actual name of this dog and also happened to play Comet, the Tanner family dog, for six seasons on “Full House.”

Number 6: Eddie in “Frasier” — after only six months of training, Moose, the Jack Russell terrier won the coveted role playing Eddie in the series named after the main character, Dr. Frasier Crane. Moose had the unique gift of being able to stare long and hard at his owner. Bestowing attention on his co-stars was another story — only liver pate or sardine oil prompted Moose to lick.

Number 5: Pete in the “Our Gang” (and later “Little Rascals”) — the original Pete in the “Our Gang” comedies was an American Pit Bull Terrier that had a natural ring around his right eye. Other dogs playing Pete (also called Petey) needed to have the ring added by a well-known make-up artist, Max Factor.

Number 4: Marley in “Marley and Me” — based on the memoir titled “Marley and Me” by John Grogan, the movie takes the audience on a journey through the life span of Marley, a yellow Labrador retriever. Obviously, the same dog could not play a puppy, adult and senior dog so the movie production actually used a total of 22 dogs to act as Marley.

Number 3: Toto in “The Wizard of Oz” — even though Toto in the movie (and the book by L. Frank Baum) was a male dog, the part was played by a female Cairn terrier named Terry. Here’s a fun fact about Terry: She was actually paid more each week for her role in the movie than any human in the role of a Munchkin…$125 per week.

Number 2: Benji in the series of “Benji” movies — in the movies, mixed breed Benji had a gift for always being at the right time in the right place. It is entirely apropos for Benji to be number two on our top ten list as he was the second dog to be nominated into the Animal Actors Hall of Fame.

And last but certainly not least, the number one dog on our favorite list would have to be Lassie, the Rough Collie, who appeared in both movies and on television. Originally based on a short story by Eric Knight about a female collie, the movies changed the gender of Lassie simply because the coat of the breed would be fuller in a male.

So which dogs are your all-time favorites? Please leave a comment below.


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