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Dog Misses Her Job

April 5, 2020

India seems sad, restless. Like many other Moore County workers, this certified professional is on furlough. At least she won’t lose any wages because India works for pats and scratches, not money.

India, a coal-black 90-pound flat-coated retriever is a therapy dog. Not only does she brighten the lives of nursing and hospice residents, she visits seniors who live at home. She knows to sit quietly by their chairs and put her head in their laps. She will paw and “kiss,” but not jump.

Her almond-shaped eyes brim with love and acceptance. Her tail thumps with joy when the love is returned, especially if accompanied by a dog biscuit.

But for now, care facilities are locked down and India’s mistress, Peggy Schlutius — herself a senior — won’t chance bringing the virus into private homes, although the CDC and WHO agree that there are no meaningful signs that pets can contract or spread COVID19.

Before India, Schlutius volunteered in nursing homes with Ching, a Lhasa Apso cross — more of a lap dog with suitable attributes but no certification.

“Being in those nursing homes taught me what loneliness was,” Schlutius says.

India spent her first four years with a veterinarian/breeder. Schlutius knew of the breed and, after Ching’s death, adopted her. They bonded immediately. Schlutius lives in a large house on two wooded acres for India to run. When ready to come in, India opens the screen door with a contraption designed especially for this purpose.

On Sunday mornings, the two greet canine and human friends at brunch, on Broad Street — another pleasure on hold for an indefinite period. It was here that India met a social worker who spoke about clients who might benefit from a doggy visit.

India was ready. She had been certified by the Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dog Foundation, a New Jersey nonprofit that evaluates, tests, trains and certifies owners and dogs, who work as a team.

India was a natural, since a calm, loving nature is characteristic of the breed.

Therapy dogs should not be confused with service dogs: The former offer comfort and affection while the latter perform services for a disabled master. Service dogs are allowed in stores and on aircraft and must not be approached or petted. Service dogs wear harnesses announcing their purpose. India, wearing a therapy dog tag at all times, lives for petting and hugging. But she must stay on leash during visits.

Therapy dogs, notably an imposing harlequin Great Dane, are regulars at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital and Hospice House.

At first, Schlutius and India visited long-term care nursing homes, which they found exhausting, with so many residents reaching out. After two years together, they have scaled back, spending quality time with fewer clients.

“When I say ‘let’s go see Mr. (client’s name),’ she perks up,” Schlutius says.

When they arrive, India walks to his chair, tail wagging, and lays her head in his lap.

“The first visit, I asked him if we could come back,” Schlutius recalls. He nodded yes.

“When?” she asked.

“How about tomorrow?”

“India brings so much joy to shut-ins,” her mistress concludes. “It does my heart good.”

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