Tennessee Ernie was a Great Dane. Ernie got involved with Therapy work through Dreamworkers' Obedience for Life classes. He was enrolled in the class while he was still a puppy. After he turned one year old, he passed his AKC Canine Good Citizen test and received his Therapy Dog registration through Therapy Dogs, Inc. and his certification through Dreamworkers, Inc.
Ernie visited the nursing facility at WellStar Dallas almost every Thursday. He was quite popular with the residents and staff. Due to his enormous size, 120 pounds and 36 inches at the back, he wasn't the type of dog the residents want to cuddle with, but they always loved to see him do his tricks. Along with the standard commands of "sit", "down", and "shake", Ernie learned to bow, speak, wave "bye-bye", dance (standing on his hind legs), and how to count. The residents were always amazed that he is taller than me when he stands on his hind legs.
One of the advantages that Ernie had over some of the smaller dogs, is the bed-ridden residents could see him and pet him without leaning over. This really came in handy with one resident that I recall. Bob had been in the hospital in an unresponsive state. He was moved to the nursing facility when there was nothing else the hospital could do for him. His body was functioning and his eyes were open, but there was no response to anything. The nurse told me that his family had mentioned that he used to have a dog, so we thought we would bring Ernie in for a visit. We brought Ernie next to Bob's bed and the nurse placed Bob's hand on Ernie's head and moved it in a stroking motion. After a few minutes, Bob made a grunting sound. The nurse said this was the only reaction she had seen from him in the week he had been there.
The following week I brought Ernie back to see Bob. This time Bob's eyes actually followed Ernie's movement past the foot of his bed. The nurse thought she felt some muscle movement in his hand while she was helping him stroke Ernie. By the third week Bob was alert. He moved his head while following Ernie's movement, he moved his hand to pet Ernie, and he was making attempts to speak. We were really looking forward to seeing how much improvement Bob would show by our fourth visit. Imagine my surprise when he wasn't there! The nurse said he had improved enough to go home the previous day.
I can't say that Ernie was responsible for Bob's recovery, but I'm sure that he helped. This is just one example of the powerful difference that Therapy Dogs can make in someone’s life.
Here are some photos from Ernie’s retirement party May 24, 2007.