By Arden Moore
A few years ago, civic leader Peter Blum, heading home to Manalapan from the Peter Blum Family YMCA of Boca Raton, popped in at an animal shelter.
“Our meeting ended early and I had some time to kill, so I decided I would go to the shelter and just look around,” he says.
A lifelong dog lover, Blum convinced himself that he would just stroll up and down the shelter’s corridors to greet the leaping and yapping dogs vying for permanent homes. Then he turned the corner and spotted a Chow-collie mix sitting quietly and making direct eye contact.
“The sign on her cage said that her name was Lady and that she truly was a lady,” recalls Blum. “I put my hand in and she licked it. I took her for a walk and she walked nicely by my side. I adopted her that day.”
Little did Blum know at the time that this dog was a lady — and more. She has proved to be an emotional lifeline to him and many others.
On July 1, 2008, Blum’s wife, Maureen Ann (known as Teena), suffered a stroke and received care at Bethesda Memorial Hospital in Boynton Beach and Harbour’s Edge in Delray Beach. Each day, Blum and Lady visited Teena.
“I first met Teena when I was in the ninth grade in Peoria, Ill., and we married the year after we graduated from high school,” he says. “We had a great marriage — made it to 60 years — but she never recovered from the stroke. I’d say, ‘Lady is here’ and once in a while Teena would go, ‘Oooohhh.’ ”
During their marriage, they built a successful furniture business and worked together to give time and money to many worthy charities in Palm Beach County.
When Teena passed away on Jan. 30, 2009, Lady helped Blum find another way to bring joy to others. They underwent training to certify Lady as a therapy dog. Each week, they visit patients and staff at the same facilities where Teena received care.
“Hi, I’m Pete and this is Lady,” says Blum as he greets Harriet Doctor, on the mend from surgery for a broken arm.
“Oh, she is absolutely beautiful,” says Doctor. “She reminds me of a dog I used to have named Inky. Thank you so much.”
Outside the room, Kay Harvey, executive director of the Bethesda Hospital Foundation, watches the exchange.
“Peter is a true people-person,” says Harvey. “He serves as vice chair of our foundation. He’s a great combination of being a first-level businessman and an amazing individual who reaches out to those in need. He’s the best.”
A youthful-looking 80, Blum starts each morning with a six-mile walk with Lady in Gulf Stream where he proudly declares, “Lady knows every dog in Gulf Stream and everyone knows Lady. I’m sometimes referred to as that guy who is with Lady.”
Blum smiles, content with being “that guy” to a dog who has proven to be a lady — and much more.
Is my dog a good therapy pet candidate?
Even if you love visiting hospitals and schools, you need to candidly assess if your dog really wants to be a therapy dog. Dogs who thrive in therapy work:
• Genuinely enjoy interacting with all types of people, including children and ill individuals in wheelchairs.
• Welcome being petted and touched.
• Heed obedience commands, especially sit, leave it and stay.
• Remain calm and do not become startled by strange sounds, smells or sights of hospitals and nursing homes.
• Get along with other dogs, as some therapy programs bring in teams of dogs into places.
• Show enthusiasm when fitted with their therapy jackets and when they enter a facility.
Therapy Pet Resources
Therapy dogs are licensed and bonded. They must be well groomed, healthy and up to date on their vaccinations. They must also complete the AKC Canine Good Citizenship test ( www.akc.org/events/cgc/index.cfm).
Learn more from these nonprofit organizations that offer therapy programs throughout North America:
• Therapy Dogs International: Based in Flanders, N.J., and founded in 1976. Visit www.tdi-dog.org or call 973-252-9800.
• Delta Society: Based in Bellevue, Wash., and founded in 1977. Visit www.deltasociety.org or call 425-679-5500.
• Therapy Dogs, Inc.: Based in Cheyenne, Wyo., and founded in 1990. Visit www.therapydogs.com or call 877-843-7364.
Arden Moore, an animal behavior consultant, editor, author and professional speaker, happily shares her Oceanside, Calif., home with two dogs, two cats and one overworked vacuum cleaner. Tune in to her Oh Behave! show on Pet Life Radio.com and contact her at email@example.com.