Canine Partners Spotlight: Meet Colonel Charles Beckwith – Therapy Dog Performs Tricks to Serve Others

Beck started life as an unwanted puppy that was going to be given away free in front of a store. Enter Kathi Jo Zornes of Rarden, Ohio, who rescued the 5-week-old pup and made him part of her dog training program. Today, Beck has earned the top level AKC Therapy Dog and Trick Dog titles and has brought cheer to hundreds.

It was an average day for a busy mother when Kathi Jo Zornes got the call.

Could she bring her dog Beck to an area high school?

A senior had died in a sledding accident, and students were struggling to cope with the news. Maybe a visit from a therapy dog would help, the school official said.

Kathi put the Beagle-setter mix in the car and drove an hour to the school for what would be the toughest visit of Beck’s career.

“When we first entered the school building, the atmosphere was so heavy. I'd personally never experienced such to this degree before and neither had Beck,” Kathi said. “We made our way to the gym where most of the students were congregating, and we began to make our rounds.”

Students petted and talked to Beck, who did his best to change the mood. He shook hands, spoke on command, and performed dozens of tricks.

“When we finally left the school that evening, there were definitely more smiles than when we first arrived,” Kathi said. “A week later, we received a thank you card. It was signed by the superintendent and his staff, thanking Beck for his help.

“The superintendent said he had brought in pastors, grief counselors, and other professionals into his school that week, and all combined they hadn't matched the positive impact Beck had made in just one afternoon. He said he was now a believer in therapy dogs and their power of helping communities with their love.”

Seven-year-old Beck has helped hundreds of people as a certified therapy dog for Therapy Dogs International. His good nature and intelligence have contributed to the rescue dog earning many honors, including being one of the first mixed-breed dogs to earn the top level of AKC Trick Dog titles - Performer.

Beck’s life could have ended much differently if it was not for Kathi. His litter was the result of an accidental breeding between a Beagle and a field-type English Setter. The owner planned to put the litter in a cage outside a feed store with a “Free” sign on it, and Kathi over heard the plans following a 4H meeting in her community of Rarden, Ohio.

“Scared of where the pups would end up, I protested her idea and asked to assist with rehoming them. My efforts to help were refused. I finally used the fact that they were free puppies to reason that it did not matter if I took one home,” she said. “She agreed so I picked up the darkest masked male puppy and handed him to my son Brandon, who stuck the tiny chilled puppy in his jacket for warmth. The pup was just 5 weeks 2 days old when we brought little Beck home that chilly early February night.”

Kathi is an experienced dog trainer and AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator who breeds German Shepherd Dogs.

“I had a litter of German Shepherd puppies exactly one week younger than Beck at the time so we fed and took care of little Beck right along with them, and he prospered” she said.

She planned for Beck to just be a family pet but noticed some special qualities that changed her mind.

“I actually began to harness his desire to dig by turning it into a response done upon command for a treat when he was a 12-week-old puppy. From there, his focus increased and teaching obedience and tricks like shaking hands and giving high five followed.”

Today, Beck has earned all five levels of AKC Therapy Dog titles and has been heralded as the first mixed-breed dog in Ohio to earn the AKC Distinguished Therapy Dog Title for making 400-plus visits. He also has earned the AKC Rally Novice title and three levels of AKC Canine Good Citizen titles.

He has served as a therapy dog for six years with more than 700 hours of service, helping children learn dog safety, assisting children with reading disabilities, and visiting nursing facilities to spread cheer to residents.

“Beck received a written commendation from Ohio Rep. Terry Johnson for the volunteer service and dedication he's given to our community,” Kathi said.

When not working, Beck loves to run the many acres of fields at Kathi’s home, “sniffing the air and flushing rabbits and birds. He also loves to ride in his wagon, attached to the riding mower when we're going about doing outside chores.”

Kathi and her husband, Kevin, have two children, Brandon, 22, and Allison, 20, and the entire family is involved with dogs and training. Both Brandon and Allison belonged to 4H and had successful dog projects. Today, Brandon partners with his mother in their German Shepherd breeding program and is an AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator and 4H Dog Show Judge.

A favorite Zorne family activity is preparing Beck for his appearances in holiday parades. “Beck has always had a comical way about his antics so many who know him associate him with the Peanuts’ ‘almost purebred’ Beagle, Snoopy. Taking that to heart, we built a dog house, bought some aviator goggles and a red scarf, and put Beck on top of the dog house,” Kathi said. “He appears in parades as the World War I Flying Ace Snoopy, delighting people of all ages and winning plaques for his display.”

Beck, formally known as Colonel Charles Beckwith CGCA THDD RN CGCU, will undoubtedly add more titles to his registered AKC name, but his most important role is being a treasured member of the Zorne family. “He's truly an exceptional gift as the baby of our family. While some people said, I was wasting my time, doing stuff with this mixed-breed boy, he's truly been an inspiring angel to many. And he's my canine soul mate,” Kathi said.