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'Natural Therapy Dog' Uses Intuition to Help Others

Duke started life as a puppy in need, but he has grown up to help countless others through Project PUP, a nonprofit group serving the Tampa Bay area.

Duke and More' were struggling against the odds as puppies. They were both very ill, and they lost their mom when she was struck and killed on the side of a road.

Then Tawny Castle came along, and it looked like things might change. When Tawny showed up at the rescue 10 years ago, she was actually looking for a cat. Instead, she found the two helpless puppies. Before long, the three found that they need each other more than anyone would have thought.

Two years after rescuing the pups, Tawny became ill with a motor neuron disease that caused her to fall and, later, have difficulty walking or caring for herself. Two-year-old Duke knew something was wrong, and one day, when Tawny fell, he instinctively got beside her on the floor. It was like he was saying, “Lean on me; I will help you up.” He became her unofficial service dog.

Unfortunately, Tawny had to go into a nursing home due to her health, and she had to send her dogs to live with a friend until she got out. When she came home, Duke became Tawny’s therapy dog, service dog, therapist and teacher, not to mention friend and companion.

Duke was there for Tawny at all times, helping her get her wheelchair unstuck from the sand in her yard and going along on walks through Dunedin. Tawny says that Duke has an incredible soul. He led Tawny to her first few friends when they went exploring Dunedin together, and they have become some of the best friends she could ask for. 

Once Tawny started feeling better, she started volunteering with a local dog rescue, and Duke helped out with foster dogs, but Tawny could tell he was not satisfied. She decided to get him on the waiting list to become a therapy dog to help other people as he had helped her.

In May 2010, Duke passed his certification evaluation with Project PUP, Pets Uplifting People . Tawny decided that she and Duke should give back to the people who helped her, and she asked the people at the Homeless Emergency Project  (HEP) if they needed a therapy dog. Duke now has many friends at HEP. Tawny knew from experience how much a therapy dog would help people want to move forward, and she couldn’t wait for Duke to go to work.

Duke has a sparkle in his eye, and absolutely loves to go to work. His favorite people at HEP are the homeless veterans and staff. He has such a connection with Tawny that she does not even need to tell him what to do; he feels it. Tawny said, “When we see clients, I often think it would be a great time for him to go get attention from someone, because I want to ask something hard or something that will make the client uncomfortable, and Duke just gets up and goes and does it.” What an intuition!

“He is very sensitive to any shift in my emotional status and always has been," she says. "I didn't know that most of his life because I wasn't aware of my own shifts. He was a natural therapy dog because of his natural working and helping tendency, but his intuitive nature definitely helps him."

Duke is not perfect — he does steal food off of the counter — but heck, with a personality like his, Tawny lets that slide!

It took a while for Duke to complete his certification because PUP is shorthanded. The service group covers the Tampa Bay area, and it has a large book of agencies that need and request human volunteers and special dogs like Duke. 

PUP has about 400 active volunteers in Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties who visit local nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehabilitation centers and hospitals. The nonprofit organization looks for five qualities  in its pet volunteers:

  • Calm
  • Friendly
  • Good canine manners
  • At least 1 year old
  • Clean and healthy

To see what it's like to volunteer, check out a video of Duke getting ready for work , set to the song "Perfect for You" by local artist Jayne Kelli

For information about volunteering with Project PUP in the Tampa Bay area, call Pat at 727-596-1469, or visit ProjectPUP.net .

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