By SANDY BARNOSKY
Special to The Gazette
Bob and Susan Spisak have three cars. His, hers and an older model with a license plate that reads 4-Goldens, used when one or all of their four golden retrievers travel with them â€” and their dogs go just about everywhere, including vacations.
â€œTheyâ€™re well behaved, and weâ€™ve found many places that are pet-friendly,â€ Susan said. â€œWe travel on the off-season, and the dogs are allowed to run on beaches and play in the ocean.â€
Their golden pack began with Camden, but when their older Lab passed away, Capone, a puppy, joined their family to be a companion. Their third dog, Brady, joined their pack due to a divorce in his own family.
Because of their love for the breed, they signed up to be volunteers for Golden Retrievers in Need to help with fundraisers, newsletters, fostering and adoption events. Their newest family member, adopted just a few weeks ago, is Bo, a 6-month-old foster dog they fell in love and decided to keep.
Camden, certified as a therapy dog with Bright and Beautiful, is a regular visitor with Susan at Medina Village Retirement Community, and all except Bo have earned their Canine Good Citizenship certification.
The Doggie Brigade therapy program at Akron Childrenâ€™s Hospital piqued Susanâ€™s interest, and both she and Bob decided to enroll in the Delta training program. Camden and Brady have been in the Brigade since 2006, with Capone certified last fall.
Delta requires each dog and handler be passed as a team, so Susan was required to take the test twice to be certified with Camden and Brady, while Bob took it three times to handle all three. Even after passing the Delta certification, they had to be approved as hospital volunteers, go through an orientation process, pass a medical exam and pass the hospitalsâ€™ own Doggie Brigade therapy test. Thereâ€™s also mandatory continuing education to keep their skills tuned up, they said.
Each of their dogs acts a little differently on visits. Camden loves visiting and goes twice a month. On his last visit, he got in bed with a few children and snuggled with them.
â€œHe loves it, and I know he understands what his purpose is,â€ said Susan. â€œCapone is like a teddy bear. Heâ€™ll put his head in a personâ€™s lap to be petted. Heâ€™s nice and soft and the kids love to pet him. Brady loves to do tricks, and the kidsâ€™ favorite is when he reaches his paws up for a friendly â€œhigh 10.â€ Sometimes the dogs visit a child one-on-one and other times they visit in a circle of children with the dog in the middle. Bob remembers a little girl telling him the dogs made her the happiest sheâ€™d been since she got there, and thanking him for bringing them in.
â€œItâ€™s pretty rewarding,â€ he said. â€œIt breaks up the time and takes their mind off of the reason theyâ€™re in the hospital. Each child is given a doggie trading card, featuring a photo of the dog and fun stuff about him on the back. The Doggie Brigade has 60 dogs to rotate in the therapy program and kids love to save these cards of the dogs theyâ€™ve met.â€
Between the hospital and GRIN, they remain busy, but Capone showed a talent for sniffing and tracking, often alerting the family to the scent of deer at the rear of their property even in the winter when doors were closed. So Bob enrolled in a tracking class and then in search and rescue, which Capone excelled in.
â€œWhen searching for drugs or with bomb threats, police dogs are usually used,â€ Bob said, â€œbut we network with others in Bath Township and are usually called out for missing persons or a drowning victim.â€
â€œWeâ€™ve been asked â€˜why donâ€™t we just let the dogs be dogs?â€™ â€ Susan said, â€œbut weâ€™ve read that dogs that are active and do therapy work stay younger and are healthier. I see how happy the dogs are when they work and it really energizes them. When we get out their therapy ID scarves, they get excited and actually stretch out their necks to have their scarves put on.â€
Soon Bo will start the usual obedience training to prepare him for the Canine Good Citizenship Class, so that someday he might follow in the footsteps of his doggie pack and join the Doggie Brigade.
â€œWe absolutely love him, and although adopting him means we canâ€™t foster anymore, we are happy to have a GRIN rescue,â€ Susan said.
Barnosky can be reached at 330-725-4160, ext. 4075, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing The Gazette, 885 W. Liberty St., Medina, 44256.