Our Dogs Heal by Example

We’re three weeks into Canine Therapy Corps' #CTC25for25 campaign to raise $25,000 in honor of our 25th anniversary of providing therapy dogs to individuals in need throughout Chicago.  I hope you’ve been enjoying the tweets and Facebook posts highlighting 25 favorite moments from the past 25 years.  Today, I’d like to tell you about some of the truly amazing therapy dogs who deliver Canine Therapy Corps’ services.  Without them, we couldn’t do what we do!

Each Canine Therapy Corps therapy dog is amazing in their own way, but some of them have had to overcome quite a lot on their path to becoming a therapy dog.  Their difficulties in life remind others that their own issues can be overcome – if the therapy dog could do it, so can you!      
Take, for example, Kate Vranicar Reeves.  Kate was found in the woods in Indiana, and shortly thereafter, lost one of her legs in an accident. That did not stop her from passing the certification test on the first try in 2002. Kate was fearless, full of energy and an inspiration to everyone she worked with at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital, La Rabida Children’s Hospital, Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education and Heartland Alliance, where, at age fourteen, she reluctantly began using a wheeled cart. She always participated fully in program activities, despite what people perceived as her disability. Children who would likely spend their lives in wheelchairs would often worry about Kate, expressing compassion, comparing her disability to their own and finding an opportunity to talk about a subject that is sometimes off limits. Kate was a great role model for living life to its fullest, regardless of the challenges that come your way.     
Piper Tartof is another amazing example of a dog who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to become a therapy dog.  Piper was born sighted, but with a congenital eye condition. Her original owners could not handle the vision issues and relinquished her.  Thankfully for Piper, she was taken in by veterinarian Jessica Tartof.  At nine months old, Piper had to have surgery to remove the inside parts of her eyes and put prosthetics in place, resulting in blindness. That didn’t dampen her personality one bit, and she continued to be incredibly friendly towards humans, getting to know individuals’ sounds, scents and movements.  Not only is Piper a successful therapy dog, currently working at Advocate Children’s Hospital – Park Ridge, but she also has achieved success in the sport of Rally Obedience, having achieved the highest Rally title of Rally Master Champion.  Click here to see Piper at her finest during one of her Rally runs!  At her current therapy job, Piper excels at helping kids undergoing speech therapy.  Since she can’t see, the kids enjoy reading to her, which helps them work on their speech.  The kids are inspired that Piper can do so much even though she has lost one of her senses.     
One of my own dogs, P. Casso, suffered a serious injury.  P.Casso was found on the street in St. Louis and was picked up by Illinois Birddog Rescue. Unfortunately, P. Casso had been hit by a car and suffered nerve damage to his right hind leg. In the course of taking x-rays for his leg, we found out he had some old buckshot scattered throughout his belly and one rifle shot lodged in the joint of his left front leg.  The vet recommended leaving the pellets in, but about a year later he developed lameness in his left front leg and needed surgery to remove the rifle shot that was lodged in his elbow joint.  He didn’t let that dim his spirits, though. He loves people and is happiest when someone, anyone for that matter, is petting him.  Thankfully, he gets plenty of love while working for Canine Therapy Corps, whether it is with veterans at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center or individuals recovering from substance abuse at Haymarket Center.  After hearing his story, many people we work with feel motivated to overcome their own issues, realizing that if P. Casso could survive being shot, they can overcome what they’re facing too!     
Amazingly, P. Casso is not the only Canine Therapy Corps therapy dog to have been shot. Dude, a shepherd/pit bull mix, was taken to Animal Care and Control after suffering a gunshot wound to the jaw and subsequently picked up by a local rescue for veterinary treatment.   His owner / handler Jerry Kirkpatrick adopted him a few months afterwards, and today they are veterans at Canine Therapy Corps’ program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where they wow patients with Dude’s extensive repertoire of tricks.  The physical rehabilitation patients there can certainly identify with Dude’s plight.  “When patients hear about the incident, the typical reaction is disbelief because he's so happy and friendly,” says Jerry. “They wouldn't have thought anything so horrible could have happened to him.  What makes Dude great is his spirit.  I think our patients see how resilient he was and they are inspired by that.”        
 Far from being a hindrance, these wonderful dogs’ issues endear them to participants and provide the strength they need to overcome their own challenges.  While these are just a few examples, many other Canine Therapy Corps therapy dogs overcame rough starts in life only to reach their true potential as therapy dogs.  Their inspirational stories can encourage someone who is ready to give up to keep pushing until they overcome their obstacles.  These commonalities between the dogs and the participants only deepen their bonds and help them feel that they’re not alone. 

If you’d like to support more inspirational stories like these, please consider making a gift to Canine Therapy Corps today.  We’ve been overwhelmed with your generosity so far, but are still working towards our $25,000 goal in honor of Canine Therapy Corps’ 25th anniversary. Any amount helps, and you can even donate in honor of a loved one—an amazing holiday gift for the dog lover in your life! 

Thank you for supporting P. Casso’s amazing work,

Elizabeth Loftus
Canine Therapy Corps, Inc.