By His Mom, Marie Foley
Plato’s story began with a call to Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control. I had seen his picture on their website and knowing that older dogs often didn’t make it into the adoption program, I made the call. I was told that he was just so wonderful that they would like to put him into their program, but that he had bad teeth and needed to see the dentist. They just didn’t know how long it would take for the dentist to have time for him. The thought of this special boy waiting indefinitely in the Shelter tore at my heart, so I asked if we could have him and take care of his teeth. With “yes” as an answer, I jumped into my car to get him. The vet tech assigned to him at Clint Moore decided his was so special he needed a special name – Camille said “he reminds me of a philosopher” and so she named him Plato. And now, his story, as told by his mom, continues…
The first time I saw Plato’s picture on the EGRR website, he struck me as an elegant looking Golden Retriever so I was interested in learning more about him. Plato was a regal looking senior male and from his picture alone I could tell he was a gentle soul. Then we got the call from EGRR President, Hermine. She said, “Would you like to meet Plato?” That’s how it all began.
We arranged with Plato’s foster mom to meet him later that week, on a Thursday evening. When my husband Tom and I arrived at the foster home, the sweetest golden boy you ever wanted to meet came to the door with tail wagging and a smile on his face. I thought he must be one of the foster mom’s dogs, but it was Plato himself! While we were getting acquainted, many neighbors just had to stop by to see the prospective adoptive parents. It seems Plato, a local celebrity, had won the hearts of many in that community and we had to pass inspection of the neighbors as well. It was during that visit that Plato’s foster mom brought up the idea that Plato, because of his good nature, might be a good candidate for a therapy dog. This was something we knew nothing about, but we kept it in mind during those first few weeks.
Well it was love at first sight and Plato came home with us that very night! He just got in the car and rode home with us, completely trusting and seemingly comfortable that this was the way it was supposed to be. That first day, we went to work as usual and left him without any problem. He was fine and happily wagged his tail when we got home. During those first few days, we got to know Plato as a loving and devoted canine companion. He loves to be petted and to cuddle. No kisses yet though. Not only does he have the softest, smoothest coat I have ever felt, he even smells sweet! Plato loves stuffed animals and gummy-bones – many of his teeth are missing, so we have to go easy on the chew toys. Plato does not know how to retrieve yet, we are trying to teach him, but he’s happy just standing near his people and wagging his tail. One concern we had was with our daughter’s Chihuahua, who lives with us. Well, we needn’t have worried. Plato gets along fine with everyone: adults, children, large and small dogs, and even cats.
Walking Plato around the neighborhood brought many curious neighbors out to meet him; word quickly spread about the sweet and gentle rescue in our family. Soon Plato earned the nickname, “Wonder Dog” from many who stopped by to meet him. As friends and family came by, over and over again we heard the same reaction to Plato, “Oh what a love!” “What a great dog,” and “Wow, he’s so sweet.” In fact, on our first trip to the local dog park, the head of an organization called Share a Pet approached us. He said, “That’s a nice dog you have there; you might consider having him become a therapy dog.” He gave us his card and we called later that week to get more information.
We found out what kinds of commands Plato would have to follow in order to become a therapy dog. Plato already sat nicely on command, and he was pretty good at staying too. We had to train him to lie down. That took all of five days. We also had to be sure Plato could follow the command to “Leave it!” if he encountered something on the floor – spilled food or medicines. In addition, he had to be able to maneuver around and between wheelchairs and hospital beds. Finally Plato was ready. First came the Canine Good Citizens test. That was an adventure because of all the people and pets who were there to take the test. But it was obvious from the experience that Plato was exceptionally qualified. That foster mom really did know what she was talking about when she suggested it for Plato. Plato graduated at the top of his class. Everyone said what a sweet and gentle boy he was. Not one person knew he was rescued from a shelter.
Next came the supervised walk through at a rehabilitation center under the watchful eye of a qualified person to judge Plato’s ability to interact and to be a therapeutic presence among the residents of the selected home. We met in the parking lot; two other experienced dogs and their owners accompanied us on our walk through. Plato was better behaved than either of the other dogs, and they had been already been certified as therapy dogs. He easily passed this test. Again, everyone loved Plato! No one knew he was rescued from a shelter.
Soon afterward, we received our assignment for therapy. Heartland, a facility for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, was our first assignment, and it was a challenge. Although a few patients were happy to see us with Plato, many were asleep or indifferent, and the attendants wanted little or nothing to do with us! As the weeks passed, Plato’s reputation spread and more people began to show an interest in petting Plato. Many staff members began to appreciate him too! Many of the residents want to hug him; one woman grabbed Plato’s ear and would not let go. Meanwhile, Plato stood quietly wagging his tail until an attendant came over and pried the woman’s hand off his ear. What a patient and sweet boy that Plato!
Before long we were signed up to go to St. Joseph Assisted Living Facility as well as Heartland. After a few months at St. Joseph ALF, we see even more appreciation for Plato. As we enter the lobby, we see framed pictures of Plato with various residents displayed so everyone who enters can see him. Each week at the specified time, everyone gathers to wait for Plato in the third floor library. All the residents know about him and eagerly anticipate his Saturday morning visits. They say they missed him all week, they think about him all the time and they are so happy to see him. They ask him what he’s been doing all week. One gentleman always asks if he’s been busy chasing squirrels. Plato wags his tail and smiles for everyone, but he does not give kisses.
The therapy dog experience has also been rewarding for my husband Tom and me. We feel we are incredibly lucky to have “Wonder Dog! It is amazing to think Plato was found in a shelter and has evolved into a therapy dog who provides comfort and love to elderly people. We are grateful to EGRR for bringing this golden boy into our lives. Secondly we thank Plato’s foster mom for the initial suggestion. Finally we appreciate Share a Pet for inviting us to participate in this worthwhile experience. We are delighted to share him with others! As for Plato, he loves being a therapy dog. He wags his tail and lets people love him, but he gives no kisses to anyone. He saves those for me.