From Terrier Terror to Therapy Dog

Mar 1, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Lee Juslin, Pets

by Lee Juslin

When Marsha’s long time therapy pet partner, Jake, died, she was hit hard with the loss but also knew she didn’t want to give up on pet therapy. She put her name in with an established Scottish Terrier breeder for a puppy, but before one was available, a friend told her about a five month old Scottie on EBay Classifieds that was housebroken and trained. “Sounds perfect for you,” her friend said.

It was a three hour drive to meet the puppy and when she got there things were not quite as they had been advertised. The little Scottie was very hyper and had obviously not had any training. Marsha was suspicious and reluctant, but one look into those soft brown eyes and she was lost. “I let my heart overrule my head,” she said.


“The first six months were, quite frankly, Hell. Wilson was everywhere–up on tables, counters, the bed–he was like a whirling dervish. I thought several times that this just wasn’t going to work, especially after I discovered he had come from one of the biggest puppy mills in Ohio, but, I didn’t want to give up on him. After all, I wouldn’t want someone to give up on me.”

In addition, Wilson came with lots of fears that had to be overcome. “He was afraid of our vacation cabin and he escaped twice despite a harness.” Fortunately Wilson was very food driven and, with treats in hand, Marsha was able to recapture him.

She enrolled him in obedience training and searched diligently to find a harness from which he couldn’t escape. After two months of hard work in obedience class and wearing his new escape-proof harness, Wilson began to calm down. By the time he turned one year old, he was ready to take the test to be admitted to Therapy Dogs, Inc. He passed, and Marsha began to introduce him to the nursing homes that she and Jake had visited for so many years.

Wilson with a patient at Valley Manor

On one of her first visits with the seniors, one woman wanted to keep him. “And she was dead serious,” said Marsha. Another resident was never seen without her carriage filled with stuffed animals. This was a problem because Wilson saw them as toys for him. Marsha explained to the woman why she couldn’t bring Wilson in close to her for a cuddle. The woman thought about it, turned around, went back to her room and then reappeared without her collection. “She gave up her animal friends to visit with Wilson. So, when she came back, I made Wilson sit and stay so she could see how quiet and gentle he was without the distraction of the stuffed toys.”

Wilson at Valley Manor

Marsha and Wilson have also started visiting a facility with severely handicapped kids. “Jake and I were the only team in our group to visit this facility as it is a really challenging visit. So, I wanted to take Wilson there, too.” She admits Wilson doesn’t yet have the calm, intuitive demeanor that Jake had, but, she said, “He’s only a year and I know it will come in time. I’m sure Jake would be very proud of him.”

Wilson and class getting his therapy certificate

Despite a rocky start, Wilson, with the persistence of Marsha and her husband, has overcome a lot of problems and is becoming a good partner with Marsha. However, getting a dog from a puppy mill is always an iffy situation because you don’t know the dog’s breeding or background. They often have baggage and difficult behavior problems and fears as Wilson did. Sometimes, these problems can’t be wholly corrected, often because the new owner does not have the skill and determination that Marsha and her husband had. Consequently, you may find yourself with a dog that is not trustworthy with people or other animals and one that does not turn out to be the lovable companion you had hoped for.

Puppy millers, or a puppy mill broker, as Wilson’s seller turned out to be, count on people falling in love with the puppy on sight and disregarding their commonsense. They often misrepresent the facts to suck in prospective buyers, and though we mean well, every time we buy from a puppy mill, we perpetuate its existence and the miserable conditions and treatment visited on these unfortunate dogs.

You can find more animal rescue, therapy animal, and other pet related articles in our pet section.

Want to know how to see your ad like this at the end of an article? Email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] for more info. 10% of all ad sales goes to animal rescue.

Lee Juslin is a free lance copywriter living in North Carolina with her husband, Scott, and her band of misfits: Tarquin, a Wheaten Scottish Terrier, and three handicapped cats. They can be seen on their website: Hampshire Hooligans. She owns I B Dog Gone, a small embroidery business and is the author of the Nurse Frosty books for children and Frosty’s Story: Tales of a Therapy Dog. She supports a number of national and regional terrier rescue organizations.


  1. A Scottie story with a happy ending. Love it.

  2. So true — sub-standard breeders, regardless of ‘volume’ may put less than desirable puppies/kittens on the market. Any puppy or kitten that does not receive appropriate socialization from the DAY IT IS BORN will be lacking in desireable social skills – association with humans, association with animals other than littermates, and offspring that are removed from their Dam/Littermates at too young an age will never learn to ‘be a dog/cat’ and may have inappropriate behaviors with other animals or humans for the rest of it’s life. It takes a great deal of committment to work with one of these subjects. The 100 things in 100 days ideally begins the day the puppy/kitten is born. Lacking that – Begin the day you get the puppy/kitten. You will reap great rewards – but it will take much longer than 100 days.

  3. Magical …. deliciously enchanting. Being that my heart is in the shape of a Scottie, I adore this story. Nice job, Lee.

    You go, Wilson!!!! Hugs to all ~Susan~

  4. It’s hard to understand how some people can look at a dog as a commondity or merchandise and others, the lucky ones, look on them as partners, family, best friend. Wonderful story, happy ending!

  5. That’s an encouraging tail 😉
    Spelling intended.


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