Rotarians visited by therapy dog

Robin Mams of Elkins brought Lulu, a 5-year-old therapy dog with Therapy Dogs International, to visit the Buckhannon Rotary Club Tuesday.

Lulu has spent many hours visiting the elderly, handicapped children and students in elementary school reading programs. She is a beagle and pug mixed-breed dog.

To be recertified as a therapy dog each year, she has to make at least 25 visits, Mams said. Lulu was a rescue dog after she had been abused. Lulu was a stray that a neighbor had picked up. Mams adopted Lulu in 2008 because Lulu was in need of a good home, and Mams was looking for something to do after retiring.

“My husband always says to me at different times, ‘Rob, who rescued who in this situation?'” Mams said. “She has rescued me.”

Mams said she was surprised by Lulu’s gentle nature because of the dog’s previous situation.

“She was an abused dog, and it’s very warming for me to know that she didn’t choose to be mean,” Mams said, adding that Lulu used to cower when someone would pet her and was afraid of brooms. “She’s a sweet dog. She loves everybody and is wonderful.”

Lulu underwent training to become a registered therapy dog. She is now permitted to enter any health care institution or school in the nation.

“The patients are not the only ones who benefit from the visits,” Mams said. “Staff members and visitors all look forward to the visits, too.”

Every Wednesday, Lulu visits Union Elementary School in Upshur County. Students at the school read stories to her.

“Kids that are having trouble reading just sit down and read to a dog who’s not judging you in any form or fashion. It’s a wonderful experience,” Mams said. “It encourages them to go on and try to read at home.”

Another past visit with a young girl in a wheelchair proved to be meaningful, Mams said. Mams said the girl’s motor skills were very challenging. She could not speak or walk. She tried for about four minutes to pet Lulu. When she finally touched the dog, Mams said she saw a big smile on the girl’s face.

“Whatever I’ve gone through with this dog is just worth a million dollars to me. It was unbelievable,” Mams said. “A friendly visitor with a wagging tail can make all the difference in the world.”

There are 24,750 registered therapy dogs in the United States. Mams said Therapy Dogs International was founded in 1976. The first dog visit took place in New Jersey that year with five handlers and six therapy dogs. Five German shepherds and a collie were among the first dogs that made the visit.

Lulu is much smaller than the breeds that started out with the organization, but Mams said therapy dogs don’t have to be a certain size. She said the best therapy dogs are gentle and not hyper.

Mams and her husband have volunteered for years to teach at dog obedience schools. Their school costs $50, and all the money benefits the Randolph County 4-H leaders.

During this week’s meeting, Rotarians also welcomed Derek Long, a Northwestern Mutual financial representative, as the newest member of the club. Long is new to the Upshur County area and previously was a member of a Rotary Club in Braxton County.