I was honored to photograph one of her nursing home visits for the purpose of the article. To capture the bond between Nikki and the residents on film… well, there are no words. It was heartwarming and soul healing. It’s this very animal-human connection that inspires me so much as a photographer, as a rescuer, and as a human being trying to navigate this crazy world.
Nikki the Therapy Dog
Sometimes, it takes a community pulling together to truly make things happen. This was the case with Nikki the therapy dog, AKA Care Bear Pony Princess. With a name like that, you’d be expecting a pretty special dog – and you’d be right! Nikki is a 15-year- old Motley Zoo Animal Rescue final refuge foster dog and she’s both deaf and blind.
Nikki’s (forever) foster mom, Brooke Mallory, recognized early on that Nikki loved to be touched and held. Her calm countenance was indeed therapeutic. Nikki was born to do therapy visits!
“I was actually told by four different trainers that it would be impossible to get Nikki certified as a facility therapy dog due to her disabilities,” Brooke said. “I finally found a trainer who was up for the challenge. Nikki took a class to prepare her for the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test, which was the big hurdle and a strict requirement, but she simply wasn’t able to complete a number of the test items.”
After being turned away by other trainers, Brooke found Cheri Yates, PhD, CPDT, KPA-CRP
of Citizen Dog Training and Consulting. “Brooke and Nikki wanted to be certified as a Visiting Pets Program Therapy Dog,” Cheri said. “The guidelines are very clear, and one of the requirements was to pass the CGC test. There are ten things the dogs must be able to do without the aid of treats. Due to Nikki’s disabilities, she was unable to complete things like ‘come when called’ and a stay command from 20 feet away,” Cheri explained.
Cheri has been working with the American Kennel Club (AKC) for many years administering the CGC test. Knowing their rules are very strict, this was going to be a challenge!
“The purpose of the CGC test is to be sure that the dog is very well under control out in public. It was obvious to me that Nikki was not only very well under control; she would be a fabulous therapy dog, too. There was a very specific goal here, one this dog was suited for.”
After modifying some parts of the test to take Nikki’s disabilities into consideration, she made her case to Mary Burch, the director at CGC. “It was a time when common sense had to trump the red tape, and we were delighted that Mary agreed.”
There was still a hurdle: Nikki is unable to walk long distances comfortably, and was getting around in a cheap dog stroller that had been broken since its first use. After her first triumphant visit to a local nursing home, it became apparent that some new equipment was necessary.
Brooke runs a popular page on Facebook called “Ottis to the Rescue,” where people follow the adventures of her dog Ottis and the various foster dogs they take in. She posted on her page asking to see if anyone had tried the Dogger, a stroller designed specifically for dogs by DogQuality.com.
“A dear fan, Phyllis, took it upon herself to write to Dogger directly to see if they might be able to help us with a discount,” Brooke said. “She emailed Dogger on a Sunday and the OWNER of the company, Ann-Marie Fleming, emailed Phyllis back within the hour, asking for Motley Zoo Animal Rescue’s contact information. It left me in tears. I am so amazed by Phyllis, and by the immediate and compassionate response from Dog Quality,” Brooke enthused.
Ann-Marie Fleming, Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, was touched by Phyllis’s words and decided to help. “I figured, what’s the use of owning and running my own business if I can’t help out a fantastic cause such as this!” Ann-Marie said. “The whole reason we make the products we do, is to help senior dogs continue to make the most out of their lives. There comes a time when the mind is still willing, but the body is not able.”
Through their development of the Dogger™ stroller, Grippers™ Non Slip Dog Socks, and various products for incontinent pets, they have made a difference in the comfort of many pets’ lives. Ann-Marie contacted Brooke and donated a brand new Dogger!
“Sometimes the good in people is so inspiring,” Brooke said. “I felt so grateful that people went out of their way to help Nikki achieve her calling, despite her disabilities.”
The new Dogger stroller was a big hit at the next therapy visit. “The stroller is used when Ottis and Nikki do their nursing home visits because it puts them at the perfect height for petting, so the residents don’t have to bend down. This is most comfortable for the residents and the dogs,” Brooke explained.
The residents sure appreciate the opportunity to cuddle Nikki’s furry face, and in her way she appreciates the opportunity to be a pint-sized, fluffy little hero!
Written by Sarah Bous-Leslie