by Lee Juslin
Part Great Dane, part English Mastiff, and weighing 228 lbs at his height, Wilson would attract attention anywhere.
When Wilson came to live with Tom and his wife one Mother’s Day at only six weeks old, he weighed a mere ten pounds. By six months, Wilson had grown to one hundred pounds. Clearly, Wilson would be a big boy.
Tom started Wilson in obedience classes, eventually earning his CGC (Canine Good Citizen) title on the road to possibly becoming a therapy dog. Later, when Tom and Wilson were strolling through a street fair, they stopped at a booth promoting pet assisted therapy and the idea of pet therapy really took hold.
Although Wilson had participated in reading programs to help elementary school children improve their reading skills, his first love was the visits he made to a nearby Veteran’s Hospital. Here he visited the psych ward, the spinal injury ward, and the rehab section comforting wounded warriors and their families. Tom and Wilson were also one of the select teams allowed to visit in the hospice wing.
Whenever Wilson arrived at a waiting room in the hospital, he would find an empty chair and take a seat along with the waiting patients. And, given his size he could easily occupy an entire seat and blend in as another patient waiting to see the doctor. In fact, when Tom and Wilson arrived at the hospital for their interview to be admitted into the pet assisted therapy program, the director came out to the waiting room to see Wilson and Tom sitting happily side by side in two waiting room chairs. “I don’t think he’d ever seen a dog do that before,” said Tom, “but, then, Wilson would do a number of things other dogs don’t or can’t do. For instance, he doesn’t have to put paws up on a bed the way labs and retrievers do because his head would already be above the level of the bed. Same thing for wheelchairs. I would tell patients in wheelchairs he is just a moving coffee table.”
Wilson clearly loved children and that made him a good participant in the reading programs. In fact, one little girl who lacked confidence and was terribly nervous about reading finally agreed to read to Wilson. It was clear from her stumbling efforts that her reading skills were well below her grade level, but Wilson, to encourage his new friend, stayed close and gave her kisses throughout her reading. On her second attempt, it was obvious that her reading was beginning to improve and her nervousness, too, had lessened. Then, for her third reading session, she surprised everyone by bringing in a picture and her own story which she said was especially for Wilson.
Sadly Wilson crossed the Rainbow Bridge in 2011. However, recently he was honored posthumously by being selected as Therapy Animal of the Year for 2011 by the Spirit of Planetree Organization representing over 400 hospitals and care centers in the US, Canada, and the Netherlands. Although Wilson is no longer here to visit our wounded warriors, we know he is comforting those warriors across the Rainbow Bridge who did not make it home.
Check out KRL’s pet section, Pet Perspective, to read more of Lee’s therapy animal articles along with many other pet related articles and stories.