Playing with Butterflies: A Rescue Dog’s New Life As A Therapy Dog

Jan 5, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Lee Juslin, Pets

by Lee Juslin

When Barbara lost her beloved Bichon, she was heartbroken and lonely. A friend told her about Small Paws Rescue and Barbara applied to adopt another Bichon Frise.

With rescued dogs, you often don’t know what you’re getting. Many come with baggage, having been abused or neglected, so they can require a lot of extra patience and love. But Sammy was different. Born in foster care to a mom that had been removed from a bad situation, Sammy was a happy, joyful boy from the get go.


After a long ride in a strange car, with strange people, to a new and unfamiliar place, Sammy was unfazed. He jumped out of the car ready to play with anyone who was game. “That’s when I knew he was special,” said Barbara. “He loves everyone, and he sees everyone as a potential friend and playmate, even butterflies.”

Barbara had heard about pet therapy and was intrigued. “In the back of my mind, it was something I was very interested in and Sammy seemed like the perfect candidate. We went through obedience training and Sammy breezed through the CGC (Canine Good Citizen) test.” He and Barbara were accepted into Therapy Dogs International and Sammy began his therapy career visiting nursing homes. “He was wonderful with the senior residents,” said Barbara, “but after awhile, I felt he hadn’t yet found his niche or reached his full potential.”

Sammy and Barbara began visiting area hospitals where, once again, Sammy was welcomed by patients and staff alike. It was through the hospital visits that Barbara learned that, while Sammy loved everyone, he was especially crazy about children. “Once I realized this, I began to explore opportunities to do therapy visits with children, and I learned of a program at the Akron Children’s Hospital called the “Doggie Brigade.”

The Doggie Brigade has a high bar for acceptance. First, Sammy had to pass the test and be accepted into the Delta Society, a national organization for pet provided therapy. Next, he had to pass the standards set up by the hospital for the Doggie Brigade. This proved to be the most difficult requirement. Out of seventy dogs applying only nine were accepted, and Sammy was one!

In fact, Sammy has gone on to earn a Complex Rating within the Doggie Brigade which means he visits in Children’s Oncology. Here, Sammy cuddles with some very ill patients, getting into bed with kids who are often too weak to get out of bed and have numerous tubes and monitoring equipment. Sammy cuddles close and often falls asleep with the youngsters nestling his head next to theirs on the pillow.

Sweet Dreams Amber and Sammy

One little girl had been in ICU battling for her life. When she was able to return to the ward, she refused to get out of bed, which the nurses wanted her to do so that she could begin regaining her strength. No amount of pleading helped. Along came Sammy whom the little girl remembered and loved. Barbara told her that if she got up, she could walk Sammy down the hall. “That day she and Sammy strolled down the hospital corridor is one I will never forget, and there was not a dry eye on the ward.”

Sammy and Barbara visit the Akron Children’s Hospital once a week, and, while they concentrate on the Oncology Ward, they often get special requests to visit young patients in other sections. Sammy is always happy to oblige. In fact, Sammy has proven so popular that he has helped facilitate two Bichon adoptions from Small Paws Rescue to families of oncology patients.

Sammy with another Bichon named Biggs - all snuggled in.

Barbara and Sammy have also worked as advocates for rescue in their home state of Ohio and have recently been instrumental in passing a bill designed to curb puppy mills. But, Sammy’s greatest gift is mending broken hearts, not the least of which is Barbara’s. “Not only did he help me heal from the loss of my first Bichon, but the day after Sammy arrived, I buried my father. Sammy was a big part in helping me through that pain as well.”

If you would like to learn more about rescue for your favorite breed, simply go to Google and key in the breed name and the word “rescue.” Most breeds have national rescue organizations that always need help through volunteering, fostering, adopting, or making a cash donation.

Read more animal related articles by Lee here in KRL.

Lee Juslin a graduate of Bucknell University with a master’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University, and is a freelance copywriter who lives in NC. Until recently, she was active in pet therapy with her certified therapy dog, Frosty, and owns I B Dog Gone, an embroidery business dedicated to supporting several terrier rescue organizations.


  1. Lee, another superb story, and as usual, beautifully written! I was in tune with everything you said, especially since the story was almost identical to the experience of losing Wilson, then taking in an abused rescue. You will touch many hearts with this story….and the photos say even more about what pet therapy work is all about. Congrats on this article, and for making my day “today”!

  2. Well, Lee has ‘done it again’ — there is nothing like a TD story to bring tears to my eyes — Years ( and YEARS ) ago I participated here in New Bern with our local Kennel Club to go to a ‘special needs’ childrens home. Some of the residents were aware and cognizant of our presense and seemed to express their enjoyment of the dogs by their facial expressions and hand/arm signals. There was one young woman who I never witnessed any sign of recognition or awareness from; she lay curled in a semi fetal position on a floor mat, but would wrap her thin and poorly developed arms around my dog and quietly sob into his fur. We would spend the 30-45 minutes just with her and the caregivers would tell me that our visits were the only time they ever saw any sign of expression from her.

    TD work is two fold; amazingly rewarding; unbelieveably heart wrenching. Try it; it’s good for you; not saying you’ll ‘like’ it. but it’s as good a ‘therapy’ for the handler as it is for the patient.

  3. It`s so good when a rescue dog turns out to be a wonderful therapy dog. Thank you, Lee, for another wonderful story. I always look forward to your articles.

  4. What a great story and a tribute to one of the best breeds of dogs (in my opinion). They are gentle and love everyone.

  5. We’ve only touched on what dogs can do. Thankfully, if we pay attention, they’re more than willing to tell us – and teach us.

  6. Thanks to my father who shared with me concerning this web site, this website is in fact remarkable.


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