Megan Lovett and her Doberman Pinscher, Josie, were a perfect team. As a volunteer pair with Love on a Leash, Megan and Josie visited Lexington spots like the VA Hospital, Ronald McDonald House, Lexington Public Library and the Kentucky Children’s Hospital, spreading love and smiles wherever they went.
“She loved it,” said Megan. “She didn’t even know she was working, she just thought a lot of people were loving on her. But you could tell it was very therapeutic for people, just to have a nice break in the day to get to love on a dog.”
Megan currently serves as president of the Central Kentucky Chapter of Love on a Leash — a non-profit group of volunteers whose dogs have the temperament to be ideal therapy animals. Members share their time visiting nursing homes, hospitals, veteran centers, libraries and more, all to make the day of someone in need of a little doggie TLC.
Sadly, Josie passed away recently, after suffering a heart attack at just eight years old. “It was very sudden, and it was really hard,” said Megan, who had volunteered with Josie since she was a one-year-old pup. “She was playing in the yard, and came in and died. So she never suffered. In a way, I couldn’t ask for anything better than that.”
Looking back on their time together, Megan said Josie was the best dog she’s ever had, and coming home to her after hard shifts as a nurse with the Kentucky Children’s Hospital’s neonatal pediatric transport team – the group that helps transport very sick or injured patients to UK via medical air transport or ambulance – was its own sort of therapy.
“She was a wonderful ambassador for the Doberman breed,” said Megan. “Lots of times, we would be out, and people would come up and say, ‘I’ve always been afraid of these dogs, and now I see that isn’t necessary.’ She was just perfect for pet therapy. She loved all the attention and petting and kids, especially.”
Megan and Josie began volunteering with Love on a Leash in 2011 and were regulars at the Northside Public Library’s PAWS to Read program, which encourages kids to read aloud to visiting therapy dogs. They were also frequent visitors at the Ronald McDonald House, where families who were away from their own dogs for sometimes weeks at a time were grateful for a chance to visit with a tail-wagging, four-legged friend.
Watching Josie work her magic was “just really cool,” Megan said. “You could tell that she made a big difference, if somebody was having a bad day. They would kind of cheer up just petting her.”
While she doesn’t feel quite ready yet to look for a new canine companion, Megan hopes down the road to adopt a new puppy, perhaps this time a Vizsla. She hopes she’s able to find one with the right personality to become a therapy dog.
“If the dog doesn’t have the right temperament, I wouldn’t force it, but hopefully with a little socialization it would have the proper temperament to do it, because I definitely miss it and I would love to get back into volunteering with another dog,” she said.
Ideal therapy dogs are outgoing, love people, and are not easily stressed or scared, Megan said. Love on a Leash dogs can be any size or breed but must be at least a year old. Central Kentucky Love on a Leash, which currently has around 70 members, is always looking for new volunteers, and the group offers orientations and evaluations at several times throughout the year.
After passing their initial evaluation, dogs in training must successfully perform 10 supervised visits within one year and then complete an application for national Love on a Leash certification before donning their blue vest as an official Love on a Leash therapy dog.
And while there’s a bit of a process to joining, Megan said it’s worth it. “I feel very lucky to have worked with Josie,” she said. “She just ended up having the perfect personality to be a therapy dog. She was so interactive and just really enjoyed people. It was a lot of fun to be able to watch her interact and see her bring smiles to so many different places.”
For more information about Central Kentucky Love on a Leash and details on how to join, go to loalcky.com.