Joy Unleashed: The Story of Bella, the Unlikely Therapy Dog

Joy Unleashed: The Story of Bella, the Unlikely Therapy Dog


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In 2007, Mary Eldergill, a volunteer member of Amigos de Los Animales (Friends of the Animals), discovered a group of newborn puppies on Dead Dog Beach in Puerto Rico. Mary rescued and rehabilitated them and, three months later, they flew to Newark, New Jersey, to be placed in their forever homes.

Jean Baur and her husband adopted one of Mary’s rescues—a dog named Bella—and opened her Pennsylvania home to her new best friend. Just as Jean enrolled Bella in certified therapy-dog classes, she lost her job at the age of sixty-five. This new work, visiting hospital patients with her therapy job, gave Jean hope and a new purpose in life.

After moving to Connecticut, Bella’s work expanded to nursing homes and elementary schools, as well as local hospitals and cancer centers. She met an Alzheimer’s patient who learned to smile again after Bella took a treat from her hand. She also befriended a six-year-old boy with autism (who previously held a deep fear of dogs) along with a disabled hospital patient who was withdrawn and uncommunicative until Bella jumped into the bed with him and coaxed him to open up again.

Jean and Bella’s journey into the world of therapy-dog work gave them a bright, new outlook—and has helped countless others overcome their own struggles—while proving to all that broken souls can, indeed, be healed.

Joy Unleashed is a must-read for anyone who appreciates the true power of the human-canine bond.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781510702400
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 08/16/2016
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 638,501
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jean Baur has published widely in both fiction and nonfiction, and is known for her keen observations, humor and direct style. Jean is a dynamic speaker and a member of the National Speakers Association, and Bella is very well behaved. Jean and Bella reside in Stonington, Connecticut.

Aimee Scott is a special education teacher with twenty years experience. She teaches at LEARN's intensive program in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and is known for her ability to connect with students with special needs. She loves her "cherubs." She and Jean and Bella worked together at Deans Mill School, Stonington, Connecticut, and Aimee resides in Waterford.

Read an Excerpt



May 2007 Yardley, Pennsylvania

Angus died. He was our first dog; a collie-shepherd mix. At sixteen, he was the gentlest and most loving companion. We had adopted him from the Bucks County SPCA when he was just a year old. For me, it was love at first sight — I saw his face, his beautiful tri-color coat, and even though he pulled and was a bit wild when we took him out for a walk, I wouldn't return him to his pen out of fear someone else would get him. My husband, Bob, and our five-year-old son, Peter, walked another dog while Angus and I hung out in the parking lot. It was a warm April day and I was excited, as I hadn't had a dog since I was a child.

We'd always wanted a dog, but having lived in New York City for the first seven years of our marriage, we didn't want the hassle of caring for a dog. When we moved to Pennsylvania, we had so many expenses that we knew it wasn't the right time. But eventually, all the pieces fell into place.

"This the one you want?" asked Bob. I didn't have to answer — my face said it all. Peter patted him and we noticed how gentle the dog without a name was. He was a stray who had been picked up on the side of the road. He had already been at the shelter long enough to be adopted, and after paying fifty dollars and signing a contract that we would get him neutered within two weeks (there was a fifty-dollar returnable deposit we had to pay for, too), we put the dog in the back of our station wagon and drove to the store to pick up supplies. I stayed in the car to keep him company while Bob and Peter did the shopping.

Even at the end of his life, Angus showed the same sweetness we had seen in him at the shelter. If it was too difficult for him to get up to greet us, he'd lift his head and wag his tail like mad. His face was expressive, too — large brown eyes that shone with love. But as his organs failed, we knew we had to make the impossible decision to put him down.

We carried him to the car, both of us weeping, and Bob said, "I can't do this."

I replied, "But we have to. He's suffering and isn't going to get better. If there's any hope, the vet will tell us."

It was a Sunday in June, so we had to go to the emergency veterinary services. We carried Angus into the examining room on his bed and put him gently on the floor. The vet came in and listened to his heart and other vital signs and told us we were doing the right thing. "His organs are shutting down. Take as long as you like." He left the room, and Bob and I folded ourselves around Angus, patting and talking to him. He didn't seem afraid — always trusting us. After what felt like a long time, I asked Bob if we should have the vet come back in with the injection. He couldn't talk, but nodded. It was peaceful and quick and then I had to leave the room. Bob stayed behind as I wept in the lobby and took care of the paperwork and bill. When he finally came out of the room, we decided we couldn't go home — too many things reminded us of him. So we drove to the canal towpath that we had walked so many times with Angus, and this time we walked by ourselves. It felt awful. Finally, we went home and I put away his belongings.

Losing him was so hard that we waited almost a year before considering another dog. Spring was on its way again, and Bob, being a college professor, had four months of free time — the perfect opportunity to train a dog. This was 2007.

We went back to the Bucks County SPCA where we had found Angus, but they didn't have many dogs, and the only one we thought might work couldn't be released, as he had behavioral issues and needed additional testing. Peter was by now in college, but my daughter had a one-year-old child and lived nearby, so we wanted to make sure our new dog would be safe around children. We stood in the parking lot, missing Angus even more acutely.

Bob said, "We won't find another dog like him." I agreed, but then said, "He was a bit wild when we first got him. It took time for us to figure it all out. Can't we do that again?"

Bob nodded, not exactly a yes, and we decided to drive over to St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in New Jersey, as the daughter of a woman I worked with was connected with that shelter and had told her mother they had lots of puppies. We had seen photos of them online and had picked out a cute brown one to investigate.

An hour later at St. Hubert's, a young woman named Kim greeted us and took us back to the outdoor runs where the puppies were. We asked to see the brown one and she brought him out to a fenced-in yard where we could play with him. Bob and I sat down on the grass and the puppy sniffed our sneakers and walked away. We had filled out a long form, and Kim had asked us a wide range of questions about what we wanted. After a few minutes she said, "This isn't the dog for you. He's not that interested in people."

We agreed and went back to look at the others. There were two white puppies, brother and sister in pens next to each other, each with sweet faces and freckles on their noses. Bob instantly bonded with the larger one, the female, while I hung back, not sure about either one of them. I was disappointed that the first puppy hadn't worked out and was wondering if we were nuts to even think of a puppy at our age (late fifties, early sixties).

But when we sat on the grass with this one, she stayed with us and seemed curious about who we were. After sniffing around for a few minutes, she sat down on top of Bob's foot. She was only twenty pounds and had been rescued from Puerto Rico. She and about forty other dogs had been flown to Newark Airport, as St. Hubert's helped other shelters that were overrun and her chances of being adopted here were much better.

"How old is she?" I asked.

"The vet thinks she and her brother are between three-and-a-half to four months old," said Kim.

Bob and I talked for a while, and Kim let us bring her into the room where the cats were in cages to see how she'd do, since we had a cat, Henry. She sniffed around the room with her ears up, but didn't lunge at the cages or bark, so we figured she'd be all right.

We decided to have lunch at a diner next door and promised we'd come back either way. We needed time. All I remember of that lunch is that I ate a Greek salad and vacillated wildly back and forth — one moment telling Bob how cute she was, and the next, wondering what on earth we were doing.

Cuteness won out. Her face got us — and her story. She had been pulled off of Dead Dog Beach at about two months old and she needed a home. Why not us? In hindsight, I could give you a pretty good list of reasons not to adopt her, but we did it anyway. We bought a crate and put her in it in the back of the car, but she was so scared and howling so loudly that we pulled over and let her sit in the back seat. The whining continued and I told Bob to pull over again, thinking maybe she had to do her business. I walked her in the grass at the side of the road but she wouldn't do anything. About five miles later, she pooped all over the back of the car. Again we pulled over and got the mess cleaned up. Finally, we arrived home and we took her out to our fenced-in backyard and stood with her in the sun. She was so scared that she didn't take more than a step or two away from us. Bob held her in his arms, and I took their picture.

Our adventure had begun.



December 2011–January 2012 St. Mary Medical Center, Langhorne, Pennsylvania

Cathy and her dog, Brandon, as well as another neighbor, Kim, and her dog, Lela, had been taking agility classes with us, but it was Cathy's idea to switch to therapy dog work. The moment she mentioned it, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do with Bella. I was done with weave poles, tunnels, and agility trials. After two good years of training, I still didn't feel that either Bella or I fit. We were never a part of the purebred dog owners group, and I was no longer willing to spend every Saturday driving to agility trials where there was endless waiting combined with heart-stopping panic and worrying about all the rules. All this anxiety crested when they called, "Bella, All American!" — a very nice way of saying "mixed breed" — and we charged through the obstacles, me praying that Bella would remember her hours of training and not shoot through a tunnel the wrong way or jump off the teeter. I enjoyed seeing the dogs who did this beautifully, but given my competitive nature, I felt defensive about Bella's wild streak and was not willing to put in the work that might make her more like them. In the few trials we did do, I ended up mad at the judges, as well as disappointed in Bella and myself. The experience left a bad taste in my mouth, and I couldn't deal with more loss now that I had been notified that the job I'd had for the past sixteen years would be ending in a few weeks.

Cathy had done all the research and had connected with David, who had started a therapy dog program at our local hospital in Pennsylvania a few years earlier. He worked as a jeweler and had a busy schedule, so it took a few weeks to pin him down. About ten years earlier, he'd had a heart attack, and during his long convalescence, his wife brought his two dogs into the hospital. Although he still had a long road ahead of him, he noticed the dogs made him feel better, and that when he walked them around the ward, the other patients wanted to see them. This was around 2000 or 2002, and back then, dogs and hospitals were not generally seen as an acceptable pairing. Administrators worried about germs and about dogs upsetting patients, liability issues, and so on.

But David had experienced firsthand what it was like to have dogs as part of his healing regimen, and he fought hard to have them admitted to this hospital. At first, he and the other volunteers were only allowed in waiting rooms, and then in just a few other places. But by the time Cathy and I started volunteering, we could go pretty much everywhere except maternity, surgery, or into rooms with patients who had communicable diseases or compromised immune systems.

At 7 p.m. one cold December night, Cathy and I drove to the hospital together, gave the dogs a few minutes to do their business on the frozen grass, and then had the surreal experience of walking into the hospital with two dogs. People stopped dead in their tracks. Some did a double take. Others backed away. Cathy and I smiled and tried to look as if we knew what we were doing. We went to the main desk and told the woman that we were meeting David for our therapy dog orientation. She told us to wait over by the chairs. Bella looked around, clearly on high alert, while Brandon — always Mr. Cool — sat quietly by Cathy's feet.

A few minutes later, David came into the hospital with his two Portuguese water dogs, and I saw the hair stand up along Bella's back. I kept her behind Brandon, who also had issues with other dogs, but who at this moment seemed relaxed and happy. We were now a pack of four dogs and three people, and I was excited for the first time in months. Even though we hadn't done anything, I felt a sense of purpose and belonging.

"Let's go up to the fourth floor," said David.

We followed him and filled up much of the elevator. I noticed a few older people who were waiting for the elevator decided to wait for the next one. Bella had never been in an elevator but didn't seem to mind. I had a firm hold on her leash, as I didn't want her near David's dogs. They ignored her and acted as if nothing special was going on.

We quickly learned the protocol: pick a floor, go to the nurse's station, and ask if any patients would like a visit from a dog. Check the signs on each door to make sure we were allowed in. Ask the patient if he or she would like a visit from a dog. If yes, spray the bottom of the dogs' feet with a mild disinfectant, squirt some on our own hands from one of the foam dispensers outside the patient's room, and walk over to the bed, being very careful not to trip over any tubes or other medical equipment. Then introduce the dogs:

"This is Bella and Brandon and they're here to visit."

See if the patient wants to pat them, or if they'd prefer that the dogs put their front paws on the bed, or in special occasions, jump up on the bed. (I couldn't believe the hospital allowed this.)

Cathy and I followed David and glanced at each other as we left each patient's room. Neither of us were sure we could do this. And to top it off, I was convinced that I would get lost in this huge, rambling hospital and would never find my way back to the main lobby. I tried to pay attention, but most of all, I was overcome by seeing, for the first time, the powerful effect the dogs had. Tiredness became excitement, isolation was replaced with companionship, and loneliness was forgotten. Brandon sauntered into these rooms, looked casually around, and if we stayed long enough, he sat down. Why not take a little rest? Bella, on the other hand, was nervous. There were strange noises and stranger smells, and she was reluctant to get near the beds and wheelchairs. She stuck very close to my legs and gave Brandon a lick on the mouth when we were out in the hallway.

"Get the basic idea?" asked David after we had seen a half-dozen patients.

Cathy and I nodded.

"Some patients won't want to see you, and you can always ask at the nurse's station if there is anyone you should make sure to visit."

He led us to the elevator and we returned to the ground floor. He showed us where the volunteer office was and where to sign in and out. They had bottles of spray for the dogs and he told us to take one. He reminded us of the cardinal rule: we were never to ask about a patient's condition. We weren't there to offer advice, and we never talked about the patients unless there was an issue that needed to be reported to a nurse or the volunteer supervisor.

"You'll also be getting special leashes. St. Mary's doesn't use the volunteer jackets for pet therapy work, but you'll have a nice blue leash with St. Mary Medical Center written on it. Make sure to use that and to wear your name tags. You can wear your dogs' name tags, too, or clip them to their collars."

There was so much to remember. We thanked David, put on our jackets and gloves, and headed out into the cold night.

"Got that?" I asked Cathy as both dogs squatted in the brittle grass. We burst out laughing.

"Good thing we're doing this together," said Cathy, and I agreed. I wasn't a shy person, but this felt overwhelming and we were both afraid of doing something wrong.

Brandon and Bella were happy to be outside. They sniffed their way to the car and we drove home. Cathy and I told the volunteer office that we would come every Monday at 1 p.m., starting in January. I was grateful for this structure; I didn't know what I was going to do without work. It was going to be very strange to have all this free time. Well-meaning friends told me that everything was happening for a reason, but I was never a big fan of that concept. I couldn't find a reason for my job loss that made sense to me, and although I could guess why my name was on the list, I was still in that hurt, "why me" phase and wasn't sure how to break out of it. To top it all off, a career coach losing her job was supremely ironic — like a doctor getting sick.

I loved my work, but I was beginning to realize I had outgrown the industry I'd been in for sixteen years. I had grown up in the industry when personal attention and deep relationships were deeply valued, but at age sixty-five, it was clear that I had never adjusted to the increasing pressure to see more clients and give them less time. So I wasn't only mourning my job loss, but all that had been lost over the past few years.

"This was the best," said Cathy as she dropped me off. I agreed. It really was. I was deeply grateful to have something new and hopeful in my life. I was also grateful for her.

I gave her a big hug.



June 2007 Yardley, Pennsylvania

The crate we'd bought saved our life. Bella had never been in a home and was wild. She flew through the air at warp speed, crashed into furniture, jumped over chairs, and only focused on two things: digging and chewing. She ate one of my leather sandals. She devoured a decorative pillow and chewed through the mat and towels in her crate. Our backyard looked like a moonscape from Bella's craters. She was so out of control that we had to keep her on the leash in the house, and walking her was a lesson in frustration. She pulled, veered, stopped abruptly, and was afraid of plastic bags and the ceramic frog in our front garden that Bob's mother had made for us.

I worked from home two days a week and was in the office for the other three, but poor Bob, who was off for the summer, got to be with Bella every day. He was on the brink of a meltdown. And while we both knew it was unfair, we couldn't help but compare her to Angus — our sixteen-year-old mellow dog who, even in his youth, couldn't touch Bella's energy. It was like having another species in our home — something completely foreign and destructive.


Excerpted from "Joy Unleashed"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Jean Baur.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Dedication vii

Foreword ix

Introduction xii

Part I Early Days 1

1 What Were We Thinking? 3

2 This Is a Crazy Place: Hospital Orientation 8

3 The Cat Is Not a Snack 13

4 The Infusion Room 18

5 Baby Steps 26

6 Dealing with the Unexpected 31

7 Progress 37

Part II Finding the Right Job 43

8 Saying Goodbye 45

9 One Step Forward and Fifteen Back 54

10 Beverly 60

11 An Ail-American Dog 68

12 Leonard 76

13 Time to Walk Away 85

Part III Sit, Stay, Paws Up 91

14 Navigating Through a Hospital 93

15 Canine Good Citizen 101

16 Bonding 111

17 The Therapy Dog Certification Test 117

18 When a Dog Is Like a Teenager 123

19 Revolving Door 129

Part IV Working Girl 137

20 Expect Nothing, Be Surprised 139

21 We Go to School 145

22 Favorites Can Still Bite 152

23 What We Do 159

24 Invitations 166

25 Beverly's Blessing 175

26 Every Dog Has a Story 181

27 Our Very Own School 190

28 Slowness Is the New Kindness 200

29 Legacy from Angus 209

30 At the End There Is a Dog 220

A Note from the Author 234

Further Reading 236

Therapy Dog Websites/Organizations 241

Acknowledgments 243

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