He had been picked up as a stray on a busy intersection and was matted and shy and fearful of most men. But there was just something about the way people were drawn to the cute little year-old Havanese that made her dream about the potential.
Laurie, who owns a greeting card business, started volunteering with Oliver where he could meet people. He became something akin to the Wal-Mart greeter at the thrift shop for the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. He progressed so rapidly that she enrolled him in therapy training. He became certified in November 2012.
Oliver is one of 22 rescue pets who work at Tucson Medical Center in the therapy program.
“With people, there are certain barriers that can get in the way of how they relate to one another, but dogs just cross every barrier,” Laurie said. “He brings smiles to everyone who meets him.”
Just recently, Oliver had a chance to visit with a woman who had spent 13 days in her room and was just venturing out into the courtyard for the first time. She had a chance to feel the breeze and the sun and play with Oliver – little moments of normalcy and hope in the midst of a trying time in her life.
And of course, there’s something in it for Oliver, who basks in the attention, likes to frolic in the grassy courtyards on his breaks and flings himself on his back for belly rubs. And there’s something in it for Laurie, too, who said visiting others in need tends to help put life in perspective and adds meaning to it.
Oliver set Laurie herself on a new life trajectory as well. Not only did Oliver become a spokesdog for the national Shelter Dog Project, but became the “poster dog” for Pima Animal Care Center when he won the most community votes to be the face of its dog licensing campaign. Laurie now serves on the board of Pima Paws for Life, a nonprofit that rehabilitates sick pets from Pima Animal Care Center and helps them find new homes. In addition to his ongoing work at TMC, Oliver is now signed up to help comfort crime victims and their families.
Like Tucson Medical Center, Laurie is supporting Prop. 415, which seeks improvements to the crowded, outdated county shelter, which cares for 24,000 animals a year. The average homeowner would pay less than $3 a year to fund the improvements, which would increase efficiency, control the transmission of sickness in the shelter and enhance pet adoptions.
For Tucson Medical Center, it’s a question of public health. Not only do pets provide mental and physical health benefits to their owners, but securing strays helps prevent the spread of disease and helps guard against animal bites and scratches.
Laurie said caring for distressed animals and preventing irresponsible breeding over the long-term are the hallmarks of a civilized society. “Not only can you get a pet at the shelter – you can get a great pet at the shelter. They can give back so much – not just to their owner, but ultimately, to the community.”