Duke’s Story: A Therapy Dog Story

May 18, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Lee Juslin, Pets

by Lee Juslin

When Shiloh decided to get a dog, her first dog, she took all the right steps. She went to a breeder with a reputation in the breed and selected a puppy. When the puppy seemed to have recurring tummy problems, she immediately took him to a vet. And, when that vet couldn’t diagnose the problem to her satisfaction, she went to another vet. It took several vet visits before she found one who could get to the bottom of the problem. Duke, her Rottweiler puppy, her first dog ever, had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and an undersized liver, conditions the vet told her were inherited.

Duke in therapy vest

Shiloh immediately attempted to contact the breeder to explain Duke’s situation. She wanted to urge her to take steps like not continuing to breed the two dogs that had produced Duke and to contact owners of other puppies in Duke’s litter. She received no response.

Although the vet bills were beginning to grow beyond what Shiloh had expected for her puppy, she was determined to do her best for Duke. Since there was no dog food available for both his IBS and his liver problems, Shiloh made his food for him with an almost completely vegan diet needed for his two conditions and went to the vet with him weekly for various treatments.

Through all his problems and pain, Duke proved to be a very sweet-natured dog who loved people and only wanted love and attention in return. So, Shiloh, having read and heard about therapy dogs, decided this might be something for Duke. Despite his discomfort, or maybe because of it, Shiloh knew Duke had something special to offer to people who were also in pain, and therapy visits would give Duke just enough exercise and plenty of people to give him the attention he loved.

Duke at Halloween

Because most dog trainers used treats in their training programs and Duke was on a very restricted diet, Shiloh undertook the training herself. She downloaded the requirements to get Duke certified, and they worked faithfully to achieve the necessary obedience levels. Duke was an eager student and in no time he was ready to become a therapy dog. “I had heard about Love on a Leash,” said Shiloh, “so that was the group I wanted us to join.”

Duke did well in his ten required supervised visits and soon he and Shiloh were a full-fledged therapy team and doing several visits per week. “We visited at the VA Hospital, a Paws to Read program at our local library, and Duke’s personal favorite, The Arc, a center for adults with mental handicaps. Everywhere Duke went his gentleness and happy personality won him friends.” Sometimes Duke would encounter resistance just because he was a Rottweiler, a breed that is often dismissed as aggressive. On one occasion he and Shiloh were visiting at the VA. “We approached a patient and he said that he didn’t like Rottweilers. I said okay, sat down nearby, and began talking to him with Duke lying calmly on the floor. Soon, without even realizing it, the man began patting Duke.”

At the vet clinic where Duke had become a favorite, there was one tech who was afraid of him and would run out of the room when Duke came in. However, one day she was assisting the vet and when Duke entered the room, she had no choice but to stay. Within only a few minutes, she fell under Duke’s spell and became yet another one of his many fans. “Duke was always at ease in the vet’s office. He didn’t care if you were giving him a shot. It was attention, and that’s what he wanted.”

Duke loved his therapy visits and even when he was not feeling well, he was eager to go. Because of his health problems, Duke was thin and sometimes patients they were visiting would ask Shiloh why Duke seemed underweight. “In those cases I would explain about his health problems.” One day a paralyzed vet at the VA asked Shiloh about Duke and after she explained why he was thin, the man leaned down, cradled Duke’s head and said, “I’m sick, too. We can be sick together.” Then he looked at Shiloh and said, “I hope you will keep coming to visit.”

On another visit, when Shiloh and Duke were part of a group of visiting therapy dogs, a patient was asked if he’d like to see the therapy dogs. “I guess not,” he said. “I’m blind.” Immediately he was asked if he’d like to touch the dogs. The patient smiled and said he would very much like to. Duke stood beside the man who then patted him and explored Duke’s body with his hands. “Oh, he’s so beautiful,” he told Shiloh.

Duke and friends

Finally, Duke’s medical problems proved to be too much and at just over two years old, the vet told Shiloh that Duke was terminal. “I was determined his last months would be happy ones and since he loved people and loved his therapy visits, that’s what we concentrated on.” Then, on New Year’s Eve and just shy of his third birthday, Duke crossed the Rainbow Bridge. But, his send off was special. At the vet’s office the doctors and staff came in to say good-bye; even staff members who were not working that day came in to give Duke a last cuddle and pat. Amidst that outpouring of love, the most memorable and encouraging part came from Dr. Martin, Duke’s beloved vet, who told Shiloh, “I think you know how special Duke is, but you don’t really know how special he was to so many other people.”

“Although caring for Duke, doing our therapy visits three times per week, and maintaining a full time job with the sheriff’s department was a struggle, I wouldn’t have missed it. Every time we finished a visit, I always took away something special.”

Today, while Shiloh is not ready for another dog, she has an arrangement with her brother who has a German Shepherd that is retired from the sheriff’s department. “He really was a bit too sweet natured for police work,” Shiloh said, “so I am training him for therapy work. He will live with my brother’s family, but I’ll be able to continue in pet therapy and have the time I need to recover emotionally and financially.”

You can find more animal rescue, therapy dog, 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. Beautiful story once again Lee!!! I look forward to all your pet therapy stories! This one made me cry though. God bless Shiloh and the loving care she gave to Duke!!

  2. it takes a special dog and a special person to make a ‘therapy team’; Lee is part of a lot of teams by finding so many wonderful combinations, dogs, cats, rabbits and I think I remember her covering a miniature horse that was doing ‘therapy’ work — it was Will Rogers that said “there’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man.” If I have a choice – put me in a home with a therapy horse!

  3. Beautiful story. The power of love.

  4. This one was hard to read thru the tears. Thank you Lee, for letting us share a moment in Shiloh and Duke’s lives.

  5. Touching story -Shiloh and Duke made a positive difference in too short of a time.

  6. Oh! R.I.P., sweet Duke! I’m NOT afraid of Rottweilers! 🙂

  7. Well told sad and bittersweet. RIP Duke.

  8. I discourage people from going to a breeder.There are plenty of shelters and strays to go around for everyone.We have rescued 8 kittens and one puppy from the streets over the last 16 years.They are all social and loving critters and we would not take anything for them.Shelters have just about any breed you could want.Breeders compound the overpopulation problem for profit only.

  9. Amen, Eugene! I love the saying:
    Do not buy while shelter pets DIE!

  10. Duke is very happy from where he is right now because he knew that he gave a lot of happiness to the people that he left. He also knew that he was really loved. Thank you for this very nice story.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.