The jangle of dog tags echoes off bare walls and brings life to a fluorescent-lit hallway. From a dark room, a voice says, “Ooh, a puppy! How cute is that puppy?”
“Would you like to have a visitor?” a man in a light blue, crew cut sweatshirt asks.
“Oh, please!” exclaims the nursing home resident.
Bob Walther is the proud owner of three rat terriers, two of which are therapy pets. Trained through the Love on a Leash program, Bob takes Ollie and Speckles to nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and hospitals in Somerset. As one of the most committed members of the Somerset chapter, he makes nine to 10 visits a month.
“It’s amazing how well-behaved dogs pick up on people’s spirit,” says Bob as he scratches the top of Ollie’s head.
For Bob, Love on a Leash fills a niche in his life. He lives with his three dogs in the Somerset countryside, and willingly commits his time and money to make the rounds, visiting residents and patients. “Smiles transfer like magic over to you and you get joy out of it,” Bob says.
“It’s a sacrifice of love for Bob,” says Gloria Sams, a former president of Somerset’s Love on a Leash chapter.
Love on a Leash is a way for Bob to give back to his community and make his days worthwhile. He gets satisfaction knowing he and his therapy dogs can reach people, even the ones who are “meaner than mules,” he jokes.
Nurses, therapists and administration officials say there is a significant lift in the mood when the dogs of Love on a Leash come to visit. Most would stay in bed all day if a therapy pet didn’t visit, they say.
When Bob first started making visits, his dad, Tom, didn’t understand why he liked visiting people with his dogs. Then Tom had a brain tumor removed in mid-August. Bob and his dogs now visit him nearly every morning, and Tom sees firsthand the benefits. As Ollie curls up in between his legs in bed, Tom smiles. “It makes me feel good — or better.”