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Meet the only therapy dog for the National Parks Service
“Happy” is certainly an appropriate name for Tom and Marsha Dulz’s golden retriever, who is friendly, easygoing and loves life. Happy also brings joy and comfort to the people he meets – thousands of them – through his work as a therapy dog at the Flight 93 Memorial National Park. Marsha says none of this would have ever happened without the care Happy received at The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center (VMC).
Happy had hip problems. He essentially walked on three legs, earning the nickname “Tripod” from the Dulz grandchildren. When the Dulz’s veterinarian, Dr. Fox, took x-rays, he saw exactly how serious the hip problem was. By favoring his “bad” hip, Happy would soon destroy the other.
The diagnosis was a dislocation of the right hip and severe osteoarthritis as a result of hip dysplasia (HD), a developmental disorder that is very common in the retriever breeds. Dr. Fox recommended that they see Dr. Jonathan Dyce, a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon who has performed more than 1,000 total hip replacements at Ohio State’s Veterinary Medical Center. The Dulzes needed no convincing; they had taken other animals to Ohio State and believed there was no hospital better.
Happy was discharged on the day after total hip replacement (THR) surgery, “He went in for surgery on Friday and walked out on Saturday,” said Marsha. In addition to Dr. Dyce’s surgical expertise, the Dulzes also appreciated the way they were treated at the Veterinary Medical Center. “They understand your anxiety and are so considerate of your feelings as a pet owner,” said Marsha. Tom and Marsha especially valued the personal phone call they received immediately after surgery to tell them how Happy was doing.
The staff at the Veterinary Medical Center shared warm feelings, Dr. Dyce says, “[Happy] is the rock star variety golden retriever who lights up the room, generates smiles by the boatload, and is remembered vividly and affectionately by all those who were fortunate enough to care for him.”
Happy’s winning personality made him a great candidate to become a therapy dog. The training to become a certified International Therapy Dog is very rigorous. The dogs are put into a number of stressful situations and meet people with different health or behavioral traits than they are accustomed to. Happy was unflappable: he adapted to every person and every situation. “He especially loves the children,” said Marsha.
Therapy dogs provide comfort and happiness in a variety of situations, including nursing homes, disaster sites, hospitals, schools, and shelters. Happy is a regular at the local nursing home and the patients love him. He knows to walk through the automatic doors to enter, and he looks in the door of each room – if the patient greets him, he’ll go in to visit. He brings joy to the elderly, the disabled, and patients with dementia, who may remember having a dog earlier in their lives. One particular Alzheimers patient will “walk” Happy in his wheelchair along with Marsha.
The Dulzes and Happy visited the Flight 93 National Memorial, and they were struck by how strongly the memorial touched the other visitors. Many were in tears. As Marsha and Happy rested on a bench, visitors were drawn to Happy, petting him and talking to the two of them. Marsha had taught Happy to “stand up for a veteran” whenever they saw someone in uniform.
Marsha suddenly saw what Happy could do to help. She called the National Parks Service, told them about their experience at the memorial and that Happy was a certified therapy dog, and asked if they would be interested in the two of them being greeters. Happy could provide his own form of comfort for the visitors who were troubled, or as a distraction for the children who come with their parents.
The rangers said they would be willing to try it, and Happy became the only therapy dog in the National Parks Service - although the Parks Service is now considering expanding the program based on their experiences with Happy. He has greeted and comforted thousands of people, says Marsha.
"If it weren’t for Ohio State, Happy wouldn’t do all this good work.”