Georgia, thin but happy, just days after she arrived at the Sanctuary in early July 2000.
Contributors to the Georgia Memorial Fund
Lorna & Larry Piechowiak
Matthew Skelly Enterprises
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The Georgia Memorial Therapy Dog Fund: The Bridges One Old Dog Can Build
Georgia with her young friend Sunny in 2002
The Sanctuary for Senior Dogs has established the Georgia Memorial Therapy Dog Fund in memory of our first therapy dog, Georgia. Georgia crossed the Rainbow Bridge on June 25, 2003, from cancer and heart failure. She was an inspiration to everyone who knew her.
Contributions to this fund will be used to continue Georgia's work to increase awareness of and respect for senior dogs through active therapy dog work in the community. Contributors will be acknowledged on this web page.
"Spotlight on Georgia"--reprinted from The Senior Scoop, volume 1, number 2 (Summer 2002).
In July of 2000, a kindly woman found an old, limping, wart-covered dog walking the streets of Moreland Hills. She took this old dog to the Geauga Humane Society booth at the Hunter Jumper Classic and asked the staff to care for her. And so the story of Georgia began.
This old yellow Lab/Golden mix was bone thin, a large lump protruding from beneath her right eye. Her nails were so long that they had curled, making walking extremely difficult for her. Her ears were thickened from years of untreated allergies and infections. When I named her Georgia and brought her home, I thought it was to give her a few final months of comfort and love, but she was full of surprises.
In spite of her physical problems, Georgia was a strong, beautiful dog, just waiting for her natural talents to be discovered. After a few months of medical care and several surgeries, one to remove abscessed teeth causing bone disfigurement on her face, I noticed that Georgia had been carefully trained. She willingly sat, lay down, stayed, and came when called (unless she was taking herself for a walk and didn't want to hear my call!). Her past training combined with her gentle nature made her a natural as a therapy dog, and so we began the adventure that has so greatly changed both of our lives.
In April 2001, Georgia earned her Canine Good Citizen and her Therapy Dog International certificates at an estimated 13 years old under the guidance of Barbara Collins and the Geauga Humane Society Ambassadors program. She now visits the Brewster Parke Retirement Community in Brewster, OH, during their monthly sing-a-long. The residents love her and look forward to her visits, partly because she is old. They love her gray muzzle and slow gait, fondly calling her the "old-timer." As the residents sing, Georgia moves from one to another, sitting and waiting for them to stroke her soft yellow fur. She approaches them and lays her head on their laps or simply sits quietly near them. Georgia enjoys bringing comfort to the residents of Brewster Parke, but she enjoys the sing-a-long even more. She becomes visibly animated each month when the residents sing “Georgia.”
Georgia also serves to teach people the value of old dogs. The owner of a local feed store laughed openly at the thought of a rescue devoted to senior dogs, but after hearing the story of Georgia, he offered the Sanctuary a spot for brochures so that he could be involved in telling people about our work. It is amazing the bridges one old dog can build.
Two years have passed quickly since I first met Georgia; she has become my best friend, a valued companion to the residents of Brewster Parke, and a talented spokesdog for the Sanctuary. So please consider adopting an old dog. You just never know where you'll find the next old dog with important work to do.
Update: In the year that has passed since this article was written, Georgia continued to amaze us all. During the winter holidays, she went to Borders Books when Sanctuary volunteers wrapped gifts for donations. When Georgia was with us, people stood in line just waiting to have their gifts wrapped and to stroke Georgia's soft yellow fur. At one point, she wandered off down the magazine aisle to visit with a group of children. By that time, we knew that the lump beneath Georgia's eye was actually bone cancer and not just the result of an abscessed tooth, so each visit, each public appearance was special to us.
Our vet had warned that Georgia's time was limited back in September of 2002, but Georgia had her own time table, and she had much left to live for. She remained active throughout the spring, attending Working Dog Days at Lake FarmPark in April 2003 and the Medina Adopt-a-thon in May 2003. She and her best friend Ted went for weekly massage treatments together. Throughout the spring, Georgia attended the Sanctuary's therapy dog classes each week, supervising the participants and taste testing all the training treats. The graduation party on June 8, 2003, was Georgia's last appearance; she sported her famous old woman costume and donned bunny ears later in the day. But it was the hot dog eating relay race for senior dogs that was the highlight of her day.
Georgia has touched the lives of countless people. Her passing on June 25, 2003, left a void in the hearts of all who were touched by her courageous and gentle spirit. Through the Georgia Memorial Therapy Dog Fund, her memory will continue to be an inspiration.
If you have any special memories or thoughts about Georgia to share, please send them to the Sanctuary, and we will publish some of them here on the Georgia Memorial page.
"Just an old, sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind."
left to right: Greyhound Days costume contest, September 2001; with George at the Medina Adopt-a-thon, May 2003; the graduation party, June 2003.
This page is lovingly dedicated to the memory of Ursula Strider, whose love and understanding of old dogs inspired the therapy dog program at the Sanctuary. Ursula encouraged me to train and register Georgia as a therapy dog; she showed me that old dogs have truly unlimited potential. Although Ursula lived in Virginia, we drove to a halfway point one sunny Spring day in 2001 so that she could meet Georgia, the dog that she believed in so strongly from a distance. Georgia and Old Willie, Ursula's senior Irish Setter, became immediate friends and enjoyed an afternoon of fun and friendship, as did the humans. Ursula lost her battle with cancer in 2005. And though we miss her every day, the world is a brighter place for Ursula's journey here. Ursula, I hope you can see how this program has grown and how many people are helped through it--Deborah Workman
Clockwise from upper left: Deborah Workman, Ursula Strider, Georgia, Old Willie
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