Usually my dog, Enzo, provides his perspective on things via Facebook (Enzo’s PawPrints) and Instagram (Enzo_mph), but today is my opportunity. As most great dog stories go, ours is a tale of kismet — of lives on totally different trajectories, coming together at the exact moment and time to make you think …it was simply meant to be.
In 2014 I was living in Illinois, engaged to Barry, working 40+ hours a week and volunteering with PawPrint Ministries — a comfort and therapy dog organization that my friend, Jennifer Dahn, had just started. In 2014, a handsome and talented red brindle greyhound named Call To Arms was sprinting around the Derby Lane track in St. Petersburg, Florida (career highlights include winning the TL Weaver Memorial Stakes Race!) before moving to the Southland Track in West Memphis, Arkansas.
By 2016, Barry and I were married and mapping out life-changing plans. Our desire to adopt a dog was directly related to my volunteer work with PawPrint Ministries. I changed jobs to gain flexible hours, we moved to a property allowing pets, and researched greyhound adoption groups in our area. REGAP of Illinois was incredibly supportive as I explained my need for a dog possessing certain traits and behaviors to train as a comfort/therapy dog.
Meanwhile, in March of 2016, Call To Arms ran his 128th and final professional race and then moved back to the farm in Kansas. His racing owner takes great care in sending her dogs to areas where other relatives were also adopted, which explains why he waited until September for an opening in Illinois. The Saturday Barry and I ventured north to the REGAP kennel to see if “the one” was there, Call To Arms had arrived a few days prior and was waiting to let us know we were “the ones” for him.
Regardless of breed or age, most dogs in the PawPrint Ministries program take at least a year to complete the training program. At age 4 1/2, my dog did not know how to climb stairs or sit! The phrase “uphill battle” probably comes to mind. However, we quickly identified qualities to boost our confidence such as learning his new name in 36 hours, no issues walking on any type of flooring, did not pull or tug on the leash, and was VERY treat motivated! We all had “greyt” hope that Enzo and I could be a successful therapy dog team!
As the need for mental health treatments continues to be acknowledged, therapy dogs are becoming more widely accepted as a legitimate tool. While humans often struggle for the right words to say in difficult situations, dogs can walk into a room and create an immediate emotional connection.
Non-verbal skilled care residents smile and motion for us to come closer. Residents in memory care units recant detailed stories about owning dogs in their younger days. Children improve reading skills at our local library while reading to us. We greet mourners and express our condolences to the family of the deceased at funeral visitations. When visiting the local cancer care center, the focus is not on test results or battling this disease. Instead, we are all “normal” people talking about dogs, or how soft his fur is, or how many neckties he has (the answer is close to 60!) I am truly in awe by Enzo’s ability to help people affected by sadness, tragedy, loneliness, depression, and isolation. Believe me when I say he does more for our community than I ever could!
Enzo is currently the only greyhound in the PawPrint Ministries program. I am often asked why I chose a greyhound for this type of volunteer work. My first thought was HEIGHT! Enzo is a big male so we are able to walk right up to people in wheelchairs or utilizing walkers and there is no bending or straining for them to be able to pet him.
Conditioned to being transported back and forth between the kennel and track during his racing days, he is an excellent and willing vehicle passenger. When I hold his therapy dog vest up he comes RUNNING to me, ready for a work adventure. I am convinced that has to do with wearing the racing silks in his previous career. Enzo has a very quiet demeanor, and his build and red brindle tiger striped coloring make him recognizable, and to many, unforgettable. I laugh every time someone yells out in a crowd “IT’S ENZO!” like he is some sort of rock star. I suppose for our family, local community, and social media friends, he is pretty close to a rock star! It is truly our privilege to share him with those in need of compassion and love.
Have you had the chance to interact with a therapy dog? Tell us about it in the comments!