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.
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.