To say that 2012 started as a tough year for Joy and Billy Carr would be an understatement. In January, with the new year barely underway, the couple learned that Billy needed surgery to remove a brain tumor. While the Carrs were still reeling from that news, their 17-year-old dog, Bubba, passed away, leaving them both devastated.
Just What Was Needed
By the time Billy underwent surgery that March, he and Joy were emotionally exhausted. Between navigating Billy’s health concerns and the grief of losing Bubba, they were ready to turn a new page.
“We were both tired in every sense possible, and we missed the life that a dog brought to our household,” said Joy.
On the way home following Billy’s operation, they followed an impulse to stop by a pet rescue event. Still weak from his surgery, Billy needed to rest. He chose a spot at the back of the building to sit and wait while Joy perused the available rescue dogs. Unable to find a suitable pup, she made her way back to Billy, ready to share her disappointment. Instead, she discovered Billy had already found a new best friend.
“Billy was situated directly in front of dozens of kennels,” said Joy. “In the middle of all the barking and chaos sat a little grey dog who was just chilling in his kennel with his tongue sticking out.”
Billy immediately asked to hold the mixed-breed dog named Sherman. The moment Joy saw them together, she knew they wouldn’t be leaving without Sherman. Sherman quickly proved to be the balm they both needed to heal. Facing several weeks of recovery, Billy spent many days home alone after Joy needed to return to work.
A Positive Presence
“Sherman was happy to just hang out and cuddle, and that was exactly what Billy needed at the time,” said Joy. “The fear and uncertainty surrounding his brain surgery, on top of the pain of losing our first dog, weighed heavily on Billy. He internalized everything and just kept all of that negative stuff in his head. Sherman helped get Billy out of his own head.”
Joy also points out how Sherman’s presence helped the couple work through their grief over losing Bubba, as well.
“Seeing Sherman discover his new environment, watching him learn to trust us, and just observing how he interacts with the world reminded us of the happy memories we have of Bubba. Sherman brought life back into our home again, and kept us from feeling too sorry for ourselves.”
From Rescue Dog To Therapy Star
Sherman had already helped rescue the Carrs from a dark time in their lives. They soon began to wonder how their little buddy could help others facing hard times. Joy soon learned of a volunteer program seeking therapy dogs to visit nursing homes. She knew that Sherman’s laid-back demeanor and calming influence would make him a good therapy dog candidate. The Carrs didn’t hesitate to sign him up.
Before volunteering as a therapy dog, the Carrs first wanted Sherman to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test, to ensure he possessed the necessary social and behavioral skills. The CGC test examines whether dogs can accept friendly strangers, remain calm and obedient when faced with distractions or stressful situations, and respond to basic obedience commands. While formal training is available, at-home training is also acceptable, which is the route that Joy and Billy took with Sherman.
While she remained confident in his abilities, Joy had reservations that made her anxious about Sherman passing his CGC. In the time since the Carrs acquired him, they’d noticed signs of nervousness, and loud noises sometimes startled him. Joy and Billy watched nervously from the sidelines as the test evaluator put Sherman through his paces.
“He was surrounded by strangers, there was a soda can filled with pebbles dropped near him, and an umbrella was opened suddenly as he walked past,” recalls Joy. “We were so proud of him! He persisted through each obstacle and passed the test with flying colors.”
These seemingly-intense tests are designed to see how dogs react to uncertainty and stress in unknown situations. In securing his CGC, Sherman proved himself up to the task. Soon afterward, the Carrs applied to and were accepted into the therapy dog program, and Sherman began his monthly nursing home visits.
“He’d walk from room to room, stopping in to say hello to those who wanted a furry visitor,” said Joy. “Sherman loves the attention, and the residents enjoy the visits. Many have pets at home that they miss, so it’s a special treat for them to get to see dogs like Sherman.”
A Happy Retirement
While he kept up his therapy dog duties for quite some time, Sherman, himself now a senior, has retired from volunteer work. However, he’s still a lively and active member of the Tulsa community.
“We decided to let him retire, but he’s such a friendly guy who loves to meet new friends,” says Joy. “He gives us reason to get out and walk the neighborhood and be more active. He’s actually the reason we’ve met so many of our neighbors!”
No one is more amazed than Joy at Sherman’s journey. She marvels at how this funny little dog with his perpetually stuck-out tongue went from needing rescue to rescuing so many people from their pain and sadness.
“Sherman is a gift to our family and our home,” she beams. “He’s such a delight to be around and we’re just so lucky to have him in our family.”
The AKC Rescue Network is the largest network of dog rescue groups in the country. More than 450 AKC Rescue Network groups are located across the United States.