Jack, a herding dog, was born in Kentucky and officially labeled a mutt. Part Australian Bernese Mountain Dog, he was mixed with Border Collie. At the age of one, Animal Control removed this malnourished pup from his home and transported him hundreds of miles to Michigan. There, his luck changed.
Judy Winter was working as a volunteer at the local Michigan Humane Society. She was nursing a broken heart after having lost her 12-year-old son Eric. Due to a long and difficult birth, Eric had been born with cerebral palsy and died from a complication related to his disability. She’d spent years as an advocate for her son and had written an award-winning book, “Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs.” After the book tour, and still suffering from crippling grief, she didn’t know what do with herself.
It was then Judy signed up to volunteer at the shelter. “My first week there,” she says, “I fell in love with Jack at first sight.” When they met, the poor little pup didn’t know how to bark. He didn’t know what a treat was. “I’m not sure he’d ever been taken on a walk,” says Judy. “He was clearly over-disciplined and terrified of people—especially men. He’d hide behind me and was so psychologically wounded he didn’t even know how to be a dog.”
She guessed that Jack had been taken from a dog breeding situation. “Herding dogs are in big demand down south,” she says, “because of all the ranches. Right away she could tell that he was incredibly smart and “his face looked like the most adorable stuffed animal.”
After adopting him, she spent weeks rehabbing him. “It was my first dog so I spent a lot of hours educating myself on how to treat a dog, how to discipline him, how to be a good pet owner. It was by applying a lot of love, appropriate discipline, and spending quality time together regularly.”
Judy and Jack took long walks together. She also socialized him and soon saw a great turnaround in his demeanor. “I never babied him,” Judy says. “I never pitied him. I treated him as you should a dog. There are things you can do to raise a healthy animal and he responded beautifully to that.”
In addition to his fear of people, Jack was terrified of water. At first, Judy had to work hard at gaining the dog’s trust. “But as he grew more confident in his canine skin, he began to let me slowly introduce him to the lake,” she says.
As the seasons went by and Judy watched Jack grow into a gentle giant, the pain of losing her son Eric finally began to feel more manageable. “Jack began running into the water and jumping the strongest waves in Ludington, Michigan,” she says. “It was great to see it become one of his favorite activities!”
“Jack and I saved each other,” Judy says.
As both hearts healed through their powerful bond, Judy says a thought came to her: “We have to share this magic with others. I thought, ‘I know! Jack can become a therapy dog.’”
First, he had to pass the American Kennel Club canine “Good Citizen” test. That was to prove he had “a sound temperament” and wouldn’t bite anyone. Then, after passing tougher testing, he earned a certificate.
Fast forward to years later—now Jack is an award-winning certified therapy dog living a great life. Judy says, “He is a remarkable canine and we have been a working team with Therapy Dogs International for seven years, now.”
Mountains of research supports the fact that dogs have the power to heal. Gazing into the eyes of a loving dog, or enjoying the sensation of petting your favorite, furry, four-legged friend increases the level of the feel-good chemical in your brain called oxytocin.
Jack and Judy enjoy their 20 hours per week of volunteering at local classrooms. “We first got our ‘paws wet’ by volunteering at a children’s grief center,” says Judy. “Then we approached our neighborhood school and talked to the superintendent and the principal. Thankfully, they said yes. Jack and I volunteer at three schools, kindergarten through fourth grade. We work with the school counselor and visit all of the classrooms to provide one-on-one contact with the children who need our support the most.”
Judy is convinced that when children get to visit with therapy dogs in school, no matter what their emotional struggles may be, they are soothed by these interactions, which can only lead to better learning.
“Jack makes the kids feel joyful. There is nothing like the love from a dog. Words can so often fail us humans, but dogs don’t need words. Their love for you shines through everything.”