I am excited to introduce all of you to one of my favorite dogs (and I have met a lot of dogs). I first met Checkers and his mom, Sara, in an engagement group on Instagram and immediately fell in love with this giant ball of floof and his incredibly strong mom.
Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are and what you do.
Well hello there! I’m Checkers, a bearded collie therapy dog from Buffalo, NY! My mom, Sara, is my handler, but I do most of the work, obviously. It ain’t easy being so handsome and irresistible, but someone’s gotta do it, right? I will let her handle telling you the good stuff though, these keys keep slipping from under my floofy fingers.
Hey there, Sara, Checkers mom here! If you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s so great at his job due to his devilish swag and impressive treat-winning tricks. The truth is though, Checkers was born into instant therapy work from the moment he came into our lives a few months old, and his first and most important job was helping heal us. He continues to every single day.
How did you get started?
I was first introduced to therapy dogs in 2013, a stunning family of local golden retrievers born and raised to heal those, like myself, recovering from the traumas of substance abuse and addiction. At the time, I had just admitted myself to my 2nd of 3 28-day inpatient programs. I had to re-learn how to live again. At 19, I was a 365 lb. sad and obese college student who was ready to change her life. I underwent gastric bypass surgery and had great success, until my mental health caught up with me.
I began the process of something called “addictive transfer.” When I could no longer find solace in food, I turned to alcohol. From that moment, and with a familial genetic link as the cherry on the dog poop sundae, I became completely enveloped by a new substance that had taken hold of me, and nearly ended my life on more than one occasion. It took years for me to accept my disease and seek help. I can now tell you that today I am confident that asking for help, even if it took several attempts, was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.
I’m now happily two years sober and free of my demons, much of this is owed to my amazing support system and that certainly includes Checkers. In my final and successful attempt to gain back my life, I happened to meet a man whose story was vastly different than mine, but who shared the same illness. We’ve been healthy, happy, and free of those demons together ever since that day we bonded over a long game of…any guesses? CHECKERS!
Once we were confident in our ability to again own and care for a dog, we stumbled upon our little bundle of floof, and it was clear he was just what the doctor ordered to help my fiancé and I learn how to find joy and zest in life again. I began doing research and watched hundreds of informational streams and feeds so that together, Checkers and I could officially pass our Therapy Dog/Handler Certification from the Buffalo SPCA. Our program is called Paws for Love, and we are just one team of over five-hundred teams doing therapy work in our area.
What does a typical day of therapy look like for you?
A typical therapy visit ranges from visiting elementary school classrooms, to senior living establishments, and our favorite, libraries! In library visits, local branches organize sign-up’s where parents/caregivers can bring their child for a one-on-one reading session with Checkers. It’s amazing to watch him actually listen to these stories, and you can see how much joy it brings the children to have him there to support them! His calming nature and soft floof help to ease tensions and lessen worries. Often, reading out loud can be a bit of a task at some stages of the developmental process. Seeing these children’s skills improve tremendously just due to the calm environment they feel around Checkers, makes our visits so truly rewarding.
What is the most special moment you’ve had doing therapy work?
Our very first visit was to an inner city elementary school in a diverse 4th grade classroom that had never been introduced to therapy dogs. The children immediately, despite warnings from their teacher to stay seated, just could not contain themselves when Checkers and I first entered the room. (I mean who could blame them?!) All 14 of them swarmed around him, hugging, poking, tightening his top-knot ponytail, lifting his paws, searching for if he even HAD ears, asking why he’s so hairy, asking where his parents are, you name it!
Checkers doled out high-fives on command to tiny humans he’d never seen, sat for them when told, took selfie’s with them when they asked — I’d never seen looks of joy on faces so vividly until that day. Those looks have not ceased, and they’re the best moments I try to capture. That visit confirmed that Checkers was born to do this.
If you could share one thing with our readers, what would it be?
I’d share and urge anyone who feels depressed, weak, ill, down on life, or just in a bad mood to truly seek the comfort of an animal. To say that Checkers has healed so much of me, while simultaneously spreading joy to so many, is an understatement. The judgement free environment that’s provided by being in the presence of one of earth’s creatures, is truly powerful — and in my opinion, the most pure form of healing.
Where can the DailyBarker community connect with you?
We can be reached quite easily anytime on Instagram at @MisterCheckersNeighborhood. Anyone who needs an ear to listen, or a friendly paw to reach out, please message us — we’re happy to make more new friends!
Has your dog helped drag you back from a dark place? Tell us your stories in the comments.
The dog community is one filled with love and support, from our dogs and from each other. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, visit halfofus.com for resources.
Photos: Griffin Photography (2); @mistercheckersneighborhood
Alli, 26 is a not a regular dog mom, she’s a cool dog mom. By day you can find her working at the University of Pennsylvania, but by night she’s navigating through what we like to call “adulting.” From tacos and margaritas, to workout classes and avo toast – whatever it may be, there is no one better than Theo to be by her side.