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  • Writer's pictureKristin Evans

Meet Lucy, Therapy Dog-to-Be-Extraordinaire

Meet Lucille Marina VanPelt, a.k.a. Lucy. Lucy is an 85-pound Newfoundland Poodle mix, and she has just reached her first birthday!

She celebrated in style, sporting a custom-made hat created especially for her by famous knitwear designer Jennifer Heckendorn, who also happens to be Lucy’s human and the owner of Heckendorn Consultation and Therapy.

Lucy is on track to becoming a Certified Therapy Dog, and we thought we’d bring you updates about her progress toward that meritorious title!

Here’s where her story begins:

Lucy joined the Heckendorn family nine months ago as an 11-pound tumbling ball of fluff, ever in motion unless flopping on the ground. She was sad to leave her mom, Buttercup, and siblings, including Olaf, Sully and Sophie, but never fear – they are modern-day pups and keep in touch via Facebook and Instagram.

Jennifer knew as soon as she saw Lucy’s sweet face that she was destined for the world of therapy. Newfies are known as gentle giants and Lucy has the perfect temperament for such work.

To get there, though, she’s got to pass what’s known as the Canine Good Citizen Test. To acquire the skills needed to make the grade, she’ll have to go through hours of training – just how many hours will be up to Lucy herself, and how quickly she takes to it.

She’ll attend a prep course twice a week, where she’ll work one-on-one with a trainer on things like “sitting politely for petting,” and “not reacting to a distraction,” perhaps the more difficult of the two. She’ll do this for as long as it takes to learn the 10 basic commands required to pass the test. And, then she’ll be a Jedi master!

Or, at least be able to apply for an official AKC Therapy Dog title and register with a national therapy dog organization. She can then begin therapy work in the office and do visits at places like C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, schools and assisted living facilities.

The in-person training sessions are on hold for the time being, as we adapt to the ways the coronavirus has affected all of us, our animals included. In the meantime, she is practicing with her humans at home.

How’s it going so far?

“She’s 60% of the way there on #6,” Jennifer said, which is answering to ‘sit’ and ‘down’ on command. “It’s the staying in place part that’s more of a challenge.”

When asked what she is most looking forward to in her therapy dog role, Lucy promptly answered, “The hugs. No, the cuddles. Or...maybe the hugs.”

Mainly, she just loves people. And, we have no doubt there are many therapeutic hugs in store for both Lucy and her future clients.

Tune in next month for another installment of Therapy Dog Academy!


What is a Therapy Dog?

You may be wondering what the difference is between a therapy dog and an emotional-support animal – therapy dogs must go through training and be certified through a qualified therapy dog organization.They provide companionship and emotional comfort to many people – you may see them in a therapist’s office or visiting a hospital or a school. Emotional support animals can be any animal – a dog, cat, pony, turtle, iguana, etc., - that provides emotional comfort to one specific person, for things like anxiety, PTSD, or depression. Emotional support animals do not have to go through training or certification.


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