A 2019 article in the Washington Post by reporter Karen Brulliard posits that dogs’ success is love-based. You know that gooey feeling you get when you gaze into your honey’s eyes and them eyes gaze back at you? That’s the love hormone, oxytocin, and it spikes in people and their dogs when the contact is human-canine. 

I’d like to tell you about a friend of mine, Julie, and her golden retriever, Levi. To say that they fill each other’s hearts is an understatement. How they found each other and what they are doing together make an amazing story.


Levi before he left Turkey (Contributed by Julie)

Some years back, it was fashionable in Turkey to own a golden retriever puppy. The fad faded and the puppies grew up, and soon there were dozens of grown goldens abandoned and running loose in and around Istanbul. Levi was one of these abandoned dogs, fending for himself in the forest.


Levi he was rescued by Turkish women who had taken it upon themselves to save these dogs. Partnering with Everglades Golden Retriever Rescue (EGRR) and other similar organizations, they helped Levi and 18 other “Turkey Dogs” access a new life in the United States. He was thin under his matted coat, and wary of humans.


Julie was part of the rescue effort and became Levi’s foster mother. It didn’t take long for her to realize she couldn’t part with him, so she and her husband became Levi’s permanent family. He was their fourth golden retriever.

It wasn’t an easy decision to live with. Levi had been fending for himself for so long that he did not trust humans. He was guarded and elusive, even agressive.

He was a broken dog.

Julie Iribarren

Trained and Certified for Therapy

But Julie would not give up on Levi. Working closely with her vet, Dale Porcher at Shores Animal Clinic, and her trainer, Jamie Diaz at Dynamite Dog Training, Julie helped Levi feel safe and secure. In the process, she gave her dog his life back.

The trainer had suggested that Levi would be a good therapy dog, and another volunteer with Everglades Golden Retriever Rescue had certified her dog through the national Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Julie and Levi enrolled in the Alliance training program and diligently followed the curriculum, getting Levi used to being in busy public spaces while remaining calm and well-behaved. They passed with flying colors and became a Pet Therapy Team.

Animal Reading Friends (ARF)

The retired teacher knew where she and Levi needed to be: with children. She knew that children who struggled with reading (out loud, in class) were teased by their classmates, and that the resulty anxiety made reading an even tougher challenge. If she could find a way for children to read to her dog, one-on-one, she knew that the calming effect of stroking now laid-back Levi would give these kids the security and confidence to work through the reading challenge.

A Palm Beach County Library branch manager provided the missing link: a new program, Animal Reading Friends (ARF), through which children could have weekly private reading dates with Levi and Julie.

Julie and Levi have become the ARF ambassadors.

Julie and Levi have loads of small fans and parents who see their reluctant children develop a love of reading; library patrons who politely ask to pet Levi as he makes his way to the Children’s area; and librarians, who see Julie’s love and dedication in the support, compassion, and caring spirit she shows each child.

So, yes, love abounds. We give it, we get it, we need it. It makes the world go ’round. When a shell of a dog is given a chance to live abundantly, he flowers. As does his proud new mama.

12 thoughts on “Family Friday: From Stray to Therapy Dog

  1. Hi Kelly, loved this story. I’ve had three dogs in my life and they couldn’t have been more different from each other. Emma, my first, was abandoned near a front stoop in my Brooklyn neighborhood. She had issues but was a good dog and we had her for twelve years. That was many years ago. Then, about 17 years ago, I fell in love with Shaney. I had retired about a year before and had wanted another dog for some time but didn’t feel I had the time for a dog while I was still working. Shaney was adorable. He was in a pet store window and I went in for a closer look. When he put his little head on my shoulder it was all over. We had 15 very good years together. But when Shaney died I was heartbroken and couldn’t think about having another dog. Then along came Nicky, a rescue dog. He has his issues too but we work around them and love this little guy. All of ten pounds, but very feisty. Love dogs. And love dog stories. Thanks for that one.

    1. They do work their way into our hearts! We lost our chocolate lab two years ago and our black lab lives w our daughter, and the new year might bring a new rescue addition to our family. Thanks for writing! Kelly

  2. Another beautiful blog. You are a gifted writer! I’m passing this on to my dog loving friends.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. What a beautiful dog, what a beautiful story. That is something I would love to do.
      I read all about your story as well. I was in tears for you. I miss you so much and I am so inspired with you. Please text me and let me know how you are doing.
      Love Marilyn

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