Elvis Is In the Building: A Therapy Animal Story

Jun 2, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Lee Juslin, Pets

by Lee Juslin

A dog person for over thirty years, Eileen Michaels has raised and provided early training for guide dogs in addition to showing her own dogs including Irish Wolfhounds and German Shepherds in obedience, rally, and agility. Since the early 1980s, she has had certified therapy dogs, but, in 2004 Eileen, met her greatest challenge: Ch. Foxfire’s Imaginary Monster or Shreq as he is known to friends.

Shreq, a gorgeous Doberman, was a champion but had little or no obedience; yet from that first moment Eileen met him, she knew he was special.

Shreq

When Eileen got Shreq home, she began working on his manners and planning his future. “I found a training school 80 miles away, and I signed up for obedience classes with the idea of having him eventually earn his CGC (Canine Good Citizen).” From there, they moved on to rally, agility, and tracking. Eileen was taking Shreq on daily walks and outings which improved her own health and stamina. No more lying on the couch and reading—Shreq and Eileen had places to go and people to see.

Eventually Shreq earned titles in agility, obedience, and rally as well as becoming a certified therapy dog. Today, Shreq is a regular visitor to libraries as well as a mascot for the Paws to Read program. He and Eileen also make visits to several senior citizen facilities where Shreq is a big favorite.

Shreq has a national reputation since having been nominated for the American Kennel Club Ace Award, and he was also honored by the Washington State Commission for National & Community Service during a special awards ceremony to kick off National Volunteer Week. In addition, he was one of several special honorees—the others were all human—at a Seattle Mariners game for his work in the Paws to Read program. At that event, Eileen and Shreq arrived a bit early and were able to peek into the room set aside for the ceremony. There they found forty chairs set out, each with a gift memento for the honoree with the last chair holding a rawhide bone wrapped with a red bow.

Shreq has also done his share of promotional work for the Paws to Read program appearing on TV and in newspaper and magazine articles publicizing the program. On at least one occasion, one of his local interviews was picked up by the national press.

At libraries, in addition to the Paws to Read program, Shreq often gives a tracking demonstration with his favorite teddy. Inside or out, Eileen lays down a track with the teddy at the end, and Shrek, when given the signal, picks up the track and finds his beloved teddy, all to the cheers and clapping of the kids. In fact, Shreq proved his expertise in tracking one day when he went back over the course and found Eileen’s car keys that she had dropped and hadn’t missed until they were at the car and ready to go home.

This gentle giant is a big favorite with kids when he dons one of his many costumes. One of the libraries in the Paws to Read program hosts an annual pajama party, and Shreq joins right in by appearing in his very own pjs. On another occasion, Shreq helped raise money by wearing his Santa Paws suit and having his picture taken with children for a small fee. But, his Elvis costume is perhaps his personal favorite because Eileen says when dressed as Elvis he stands in doorways and poses. ‘I ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog’ obviously doesn’t apply to Shreq.

Eileen has little time to lie on the couch and read these days what with chauffeuring Shreq to his many events, taking calls from all his clients and fans, and maintaining his social calendar. “I try not to book back to back events as it is tiring, but we usually have something scheduled several times a week whether it’s competition, presentations to children on ‘How to approach a strange dog,’, or therapy visits.”

For all his popularity and success, Shreq’s greatest accomplishment, paws down, is the therapy he’s given Eileen. Almost completely dependent on a wheelchair and having given up most of the activities she enjoyed, especially those involving dogs, Eileen is not pain free and still with significant health problems—she has recently had a pacemaker implanted—but lives a pretty full and active live. And, this is due in no small measure to Ch. Foxfire’s Imaginary Monster.

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.

5 Comments

  1. I love that dog! great therapy work.

    Reply
  2. He sounds like one in a million, and Eileen has done well with him. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  3. I love these articles. Always a joy to read.

    Reply
  4. I only wish there were dog and the READ Program when I was a kid. I was so painfully shy but could always talk to animals.

    Reply
  5. Another good read, Lee! I so enjoyed the days when
    Cinder and I did therapy work…Those were the days!

    Reply

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