Sometimes you can just tell from a photo. When Libby’s mom emailed me asking me to paint her portrait, I looked at the pics and asked her what the story was. Libby just had a presence. Her mom, Susan, wrote me back:
I got my first Gordon 23 years ago and have become great friends with her breeder. Libby is another Gordon from the same breeder (Joanne VanAller, Valley View Gordon Setters). Five years ago we lost one of our two old Gordons (littermates) and the boy that was still living was too old for a rambunctious puppy. Joanne offered to let us have Libby with the caveat that she return for one more litter. She felt Libby was too nice a girl to spend her life in the kennel. At that time she was almost 5 years old. Libby had finished her AKC championship and had 2 litters at this time. Joanne often places her older dogs in family homes. So she came home with us in May 2010 and was a wonderful companion to our old boy who passed away 5 months later. Once I saw how attentive she was to him, and to us when we lost him, I decided to see if she could be a therapy dog. She had her third and final litter in March 2011 and returned home to us with Echo who is her son. In July of that summer she passed her Canine Good Citizen test and her Therapy Dogs International test. She is now certified with TDI. She makes visits to nursing homes/assisted living facilities with me or my husband and goes to two elementary schools for reading with the kids. At one of the schools she works with mostly autistic children. It is amazing how much she enjoys the kids because she was never around young children before this She now has her AKC Therapy Dog and AKC Therapy Dog Advanced titles, and her TDIA title with Therapy Dogs International. In 2013 she received the Top Producer Award from the Gordon Setter Club of America (for being the dam of at least 6 champions). She has been featured in 2 articles (that I wrote) in the Gordon Setter Club of America publications about her therapy dog work and title. Libby can always sense when someone is sad and in need of comfort. One of my favorite visits was to a nursing home. A wife asked if we could visit her husband. Libby was much more interested in the wife and wouldn’t leave her side, even jumped up on her with her front feet. The wife followed us out of the room, with Libby still almost attached to her, and started to cry. She said that Libby knew how sad she felt that day. On another visit, a woman who had obviously had a stroke with verbal impairment was making unintelligible noises to Libby. Libby was watching her intently and suddenly barked – the woman had a huge smile and very clearly said “thank you”. Then she wheeled herself away.
Now don’t get me wrong – she can be the most stubborn girl at times! But she is a sweetheart and is actually quite soft as I have discovered since I have started taking her to rally and obedience classes. She really doesn’t like the work but she enjoys being out and doing things with me…and she really loves the treats! I have entered her in a WCRL Rally trial next month and am hopeful that she will earn her Rally Level One title. I am hoping to do the same with her AKC Rally Novice this summer. Her instructor is encouraging me to get her AKC Beginner Novice this summer, too. It will depend on her progress – she likes to stand up when she is supposed to be in a sit/stay. She will be 10 years old the end of May.
Long answer to your question. You must see something special in her photos and I truly appreciate that.
Yes, I did. And those of us who have lived with “empathy dogs” as I call them, will know exactly what I mean. They are the ones who detect seizures before they happen, and the ones who run right to you when you start to cry. They are worth their weight in gold.
Thanks for sharing her story, Susan, and for giving me permission to, “share it forward.”