Meet 9 ½-year-old Leo, a caramel-colored Labradoodle full of charm and talent. Mom, Dorothy Goldwin, got him when he was just a wee pup. She and husband Rob quickly discovered how gentle Leo was. Now, weighing 70 pounds, he is considered their “gentle giant.”
“As time went on, I realized Leo was meant to be a therapy dog,” Dorothy explained.
Let the training begin… When Leo was about a year old, Dorothy reached out to her friend, Jo Anne Fusco, who helps oversee West Tennessee Therapy Dogs, to find out what they needed to do. They began classes together (it’s for the dog AND the owner) and worked at it for almost a year.
During training, Dorothy would take Leo to Hollywood Feed at Poplar and Yates to give Leo the opportunity to practice his commands and walk by people and other dogs and learn not to react. “The staff were wonderful and always welcomed us and gave Leo many treats,” said Dorothy.
She recalls the wonderful moment when the training was complete. “Leo finally got his Canine Good Citizenship Certificate,” she said. “We took the tests needed to be a therapy dog and happily passed.”
Dorothy and Leo visited area nursing homes. He was so calm with the residents, and they loved being able to pet him and talk to the duo. They visited LeBonheur Children’s Hospital each week for three years. “To see a child who hasn’t smiled in weeks, snuggle in bed with Leo, was so heartwarming,” Dorothy said fondly. “For a parent who needed comfort and asked to pet Leo, or a child who walked a greater distance because she wanted to get to Leo, made every visit worthwhile.”
Leo knows when it is time to work. He runs to the door when Dorothy asks him if he’s ready to go. He even has his own business cards!
In more recent years, the pair made weekly visits to West Clinic until COVID-19 paused everything. They visited the same day each week and saw many of the same people. “It was a gift for me to develop ongoing relationships with some wonderful patients and employees, Dorothy said. “If we weren’t there, patients would ask staff members if Leo was coming. I like to think that our time with the patients gave them some happiness.”
Dorothy thinks Leo actually prefers people over dogs. His eyes are so expressive, it’s like they are talking to you, and many have said they are human like. When he’s not working, he still enjoys being a dog. He loves playing chase, running in circles and chewing branches. And he gets excited about trips to the park and going for rides in the car. Obviously, Leo is a very busy pup; after his adventure-filled days, he loves to sleep in one of his beds around the house or cuddle with Dorothy and Rob.
Due to some arthritic problems over the past year, Leo goes to rehab at Pet Fit to help keep him strong on his paws. “Dr. Roxanna Caraballo is a certified Canine Rehabilitation specialist,” said Dorothy. She and her team have been invaluable. Leo really loves them and has been so adaptable to any situation. He takes everything in stride.
“I hit the jackpot with Leo,” Dorothy said.
When Leo isn’t working
He loves chasing squirrels, playing chase, running in circles, chillin’ in front yard and running around Shelby Farms Dog Park. He hasn’t gone lately, because he loves to run free and get in the lake.
Hollywood Feeds’ brown jerky made in Georgia.
Leo has been such a gentle loving soul to my four grandchildren, especially our two-year-old Nora, who calls to FaceTime with him every morning.