Diane Radford, M.D.

On Dogs Who Work

November 17, 2013


Someone told me once that dogs are happier if they have a job, if they have work to do. When I heard this I recalled the sheepdog trials that took place in the fields of Crossburn Farm in Troon, fields that were separated from our back garden in Hunter Crescent by the waters of the Pow Burn. Watching a Border collie herd sheep into a pen is observing the well-synchronized partnership between shepherd and dog.

Sue and Droopy Thompson

Sue and Droopy Thompson

Snickers, our rescued cockapoo, thinks he has a job too. He guards the perimeter of the property, and attempts to corral the cats — with much less success than any collie. There are two dogs I know who have real jobs, Droopy and Marshall. Both are yellow labs, and both are committed to their vocation.

I first met Droopy in 2004, in the exam room in the office, when he came in leading his owner, Sue Thompson. Droopy had been “in harness” working with Sue since 2002. Sue’s health was compromised by leg and spine damage, compounded by the effects of a connective tissue disease that caused her to become increasingly unable to perform all her daily tasks independently. I knew Droopy was working by the uniform he wore proclaiming, “Don’t Pet Me, I’m Working,” which made me want to pet him all the more. Sue could sense this of course, and I was granted permission to pet him, so he rolled over showing me his soft underbelly.

Marshall the Miracle Dog

Marshall the Miracle Dog

In the years of annual follow up since Sue’s surgery, I have seen Sue and Droopy regularly. During this year’s visit Sue told me that, now aged twelve, Droopy intended to retire this winter. He has performed his job well, and deserved to rest. It costs about $6,000 to train a service dog, and thanks to a successful fundraising campaign, Elliot — also a yellow lab — is being trained to be Sue’s new helper, and answer to the same commands Droopy obeys.

Marshall came into service a different way. I learned of Marshall through the wonderful book by Cynthia Willenbrock, Marshall the Miracle Dog. The book, beautifully illustrated by Lauren Heimbaugh, tells the story of Marshall, bullied by many other dogs confined by an animal hoarder. Marshall had been starved and attacked, so badly injured his leg was fractured. As I read I felt my throat tighten. I sobbed.

The lab’s injuries shocked his rescuers from the Humane Society of Missouri. Marshall’s amputation, recovery and then adoption (by Cyndi Willenbrock) is a tale of triumph over adversity. And what job does Marshall do?  Marshall is an ambassador against bullying. He and Cyndi spread the message to stop bullying to thousands of schoolchildren every week. Marshall, the three-legged dog, “threw” out the first pitch at the St. Louis Cardinals/Milwaukee Brewers game in September 2013 at the first-ever Bullying Prevention Night at the Ballpark.

The Marshall Movement serves to carry a universal message of acceptance, tolerance, and kindness. Marshall’s photo is the banner lead for the HSMO 2013 Holiday Campaign. A movie of Marshall’s abused beginning, life-or-death rescue, and victory, is underway.

So Snickers does not have a job as noble as that of Droopy or Marshall. He also feels one of his jobs is to rid the house of any paper goods at his eye level or lower, including books. We call him a voracious reader.

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