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Since my Dad was a widower and a dog lover, he became involved with Pet Therapy also. He took Bear through the Therapy Dog international test the same time I took Bear. We became a team, he carried Bear dressed in his Harley gear and I took my labs to hospitals and nursing homes together. Bear was also involved in reading programs for children, where we went to elementary schools and local libraries for the children to read to him. He was a big hit with the children as he wore his Harley hat, his Harley Jacket and his sunglasses.
My son Ryan came home on leave from the Navy in 2001 for Christmas. He said if he wears Harley stuff, you need to teach him to ride a little motorcycle. He loved Bear and said someday he was going to get a little dog, because they are great chick magnets.
In April 2002, my son died while he served in the Navy. My whole world was crushed, a part of me died. It was then that I realized, when the shoe was on the other foot, how therapeutic my therapy dogs were. Ryan was my only child and I thought my heart would never heal. It was at our local Wal-Mart I saw a Harley Davidson remote control motorcycle. A friend of mine put little training wheels on it and I modified the seat so he could sit on it. After four months Bear was riding. It was four months of the best therapy I could have ever received.
Dad passed away in 2006 as his cancer returned. He had moved in with me in 2004. Bear and my other dogs were the best medicine for him. He still volunteered at the hospital even if it was in a wheel chair holding Bear on his lap. He passed away the same day as my Mom did 9 years earlier. While Dad was with me, my husband decided that he needed to trade me in for a newer model; younger version if you may, which he did and we divorced in 2005. Little did I know the younger version was in the picture way before Dad moved in. But my friends, family and fur family were there for me.
My look on life is now, walk in the sun or walk in the rain. I choose to walk in the sun and keep all my memories of my son and my parents locked in my heart. The grief is always with me, but my dogs cheer me up and they keep me going. Although Bear is only 5 ½ pounds, he has earned more than his weight in gold, bringing joy and laughter to many people including myself. He and my other therapy dogs have made sure that I live life to the fullest and have given their unconditional love to others and myself.
People loved to see Bear come riding into their rooms and he became quite popular with the newspapers doing stories on him. Fox 8 Cleveland, Ohio did a story about him and from there it went to CNN and ESPN. I received a call from the Montel Williams show and was asked if we would like to be on for a show called Newsmakers, Strange but True, in 2004. Bear became, and still is, a little show stopper. He was on several other TV stations in Cleveland also.
He was awarded and recognized as one of the Top Three Outstanding Animals in Ohio by the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association in 2004, were we had to travel to Columbus to receive his award. He won the 2004 Plantree Spirit of Caring Award for Therapy Animal of the Year. This was a national award. Plantree is a non profit organization that provides education and information in a collaborative community of healthcare organizations, facilitating efforts to create patient centered care in healing environments. He was also nominated by, and is in the Paws and Reflect program at our hospital, Alliance Community Hospital.
Bear was asked to be at the IX Center in Cleveland Ohio for the Cleveland Sport, Travel and Outdoor Show in 2005, where he helped raise money for the Rainbow Babies and Children Hospital. There he rode his motorcycle and performed at the hospital for the children.
I have given many speeches about Bear and the meaning of therapy dogs, at local clubs and organizations. Although my Labradors are all gone now, I continue with Bear, my Lhasa Apso, Ebony, and another little Chihuahua named Belle who is 4 pounds. They are all certified through Therapy Dogs International.
Recently Bearport Publishing contacted me and asked for several pictures of Bear for a new book they are doing on Chihuahua's. The series is called Small Dogs Rock. It will be published in January 2009. They will just have a couple pictures in the book but I was thrilled!
I have Ebony's granddaughter, Tori who is now a certified therapy dog. Heidi, my long haired chihuahua along with my golden retriever, Abby are both therapy dogs now also. Bear, Belle and Heidi love to ride in the pet stroller to visit patients. I also have been busy doing a reading program at a school, and the kids love it as they never know who I am bringing.
And not long ago, my good friends Larry and Marilyn Coen, the people who helped me with the training wheels for Bear's motorcycle, have now donated a remote control Hummer for Bear and his friends to ride in when they visit. I hope to have some pictures of that soon to share with you all.
Ruth DeFranco, 2008