Shelter dog shares hope with hospital patients

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A Cinderella story doesn’t really capture what happened to Lucy.

Oh sure, Cinderella gets all the happily-ever-after glamour, but we never hear from her again about whether she made an impact or touched other lives.

But Lucy is something different: It’s the story of a castaway dog in a desperate situation who found  more love than any one dog usually gets, since she’s able to connect with hundreds of hospital patients as a registered therapy dog.

The story starts in 2009, when Cindy and Darel Mayo decided to look for another dog to keep their 13-year-old miniature poodle company. The two knew they wanted a smaller dog, and one that was out of the puppy stage. And most importantly, Cindy said, “We wanted a dog that really needed a home. And we just thought there were so many dogs that don’t have homes, why go out and buy one?” They ended up at Pima Animal Care Center.

They saw the bichon-poodle mix in the back of a large kennel, so depressed she didn’t come to the front with the hopeful, take-me dance that so many shelter dogs perfect for potential owners. She had come in as a stray — dirty, with no tags and no microchip, and was so matted she couldn’t see out of one eye. She had to walk with her head turned to one side to see out of the other one. But Cindy saw a sweetness when the dog readily complied when the volunteer checked her teeth to estimate an age, which was ballparked at 2.

After the three-day hold to give her owner time to claim her, the couple adopted her the minute she came up for adoption and took her home to recover from spay surgery. Next came grooming. Her hair had bound and twisted to such a degree that it had created sores on her skin. And it would still take three months before she realized she could walk with her head straight. Even though she’d essentially been shaved to the skin, Darel recalls, “She pranced out of that place like a queen —like she knew someone would be taking care of her from now on.”

Cindy noticed after a while that Lucy was not only very calm, but friendly to other people and animals alike. She had heard about therapy dog programs and decided to give it a try. She took Lucy to obedience class and then to bustling social settings: restaurant patios, playgroups, pet-friendly stores like Bookman’s. They passed with flying colors in 2011 and decided to work at Tucson Medical Center’s pet therapy program, since volunteers have complete scheduling flexibility and can decide how frequently they want to work.

Lucy also now visits nursing homes, participates in the Read to a Dog library program for children and visits the University of Arizona during exam week to help mitigate student stress levels. For a dog who started with nothing, she now has bookmarks and children’s stickers with her likeness on them, her own email account (well, shared with Cindy) and rather impressionistic drawings of herself that children have completed for her.

Lucy, who hams it up with tricks like waving goodbye and high-fives, brings patients some comic relief, but also serves as an icebreaker to open up communication channels. Cindy said her best moments come when she’s leaving a room and she hears patients comment to friends or family, “Wasn’t that fun,” or “That was a nice thing to have happen!”

The Mayos are supporting Prop. 415 on the November bond election, asking voters to invest in renovation and construction of new shelter space and medical equipment at Pima Animal Care Center, which serves about 24,000 pets annually in its outdated facility.

The ballot question also is being supported by Tucson Medical Center, which offers the therapy dog program because of the clear connection between pets and health. Of TMC’s roughly 50 therapy dogs who work at the hospital, 22 are rescues from local shelters or rescue groups.

Darel jokes that his “used dog” is not only the best they’ve ever had, but has literally changed their lives by adding new public service dimensions.

“It makes me happy that we’ve helped someone have a little joy,” Cindy said, joking that whatever the personal advantages, you can’t get into pet therapy for yourself.

No one remembers her name, she reports, but they all remember Lucy – at least one thing she shares with Cinderella.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Way to go, Lucy. Cindy and Darel, good job in selecting the perfect dog.

  2. Sandie Kirchner says:

    Even though this story is 2 years old, it’s the first time that I’ve read it. Lucy reminds me of my own dog, April. She too was a rescue. So scared and shy she wouldn’t come out from under a chair so we could meet her. But, in under a year, with lots of love and patients, also hours of training, she is a therapy dog working at TMC. She loves her job. When her vest goes on, she knows it’s ” hospital time”. She wants to go into each and every room to say hello. I’m so glad we found each other, and TMC.

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