Longtime therapy dog nears end of life of service

After seven years of volunteering as a therapy dog in nursing homes, hospitals and classrooms in Whatcom County, Tanner, a 10-year-old golden retriever, is retiring because of a terminal lung cancer diagnosis.

Tanner is also recovering from an accident in which he broke his leg.

“I had so wanted to make the rounds and have a proper retirement party to visit his kids and patients and have a final tail wag,” says Marilyn Dunne, Tanner’s owner and therapy team partner. “But because of the accident I’m not going to have him travel again.”

Therapy dogs are different from service dogs, because they give companionship to many people as opposed to servicing one individual, Dunne says.

Dunne originally got Tanner during a time of grief before she ever knew about therapy animals.

“I wanted companionship without all the conversation that people naturally expect,” she says.

Dunne has been a professional social worker in Bellingham for the past 25 years, working with such organizations as Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Washington and Paws Across Campus, a program where Sehome High students help raise and train therapy dogs in conjunction with Brigadoon Youth and Service Dog Programs.

Tanner, though, is not a Brigadoon Dog. When Dunne volunteered, Tanner would just come along. When Dunne saw the impact he had, she got him registered with the Delta Society, an international group devoted to helping people using therapy animals.

Tanner and Dunne worked mostly in nursing homes all over the county spending time with residents. They also visited special education classrooms at Bellingham and Sehome high schools and Shuksan Middle School.

Tanner and Dunne were also the first Delta Society therapy team to work with patients at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Now the hospital works with three teams.

“The residents would be motivated to get up and out to greet him, reminisce about their own pets and cry and laugh,” she says.

Dunne says Tanner is “living out his days like a king” surrounded by his toys, treats and favorite people.

“He’s just so beautiful. He’s always stopped traffic,” Dunne says. “He would put on his volunteer vest and just love it.”

For more information about becoming a therapy team through Delta Society, contact Marilyn Dunne at marilyndunne@aol.com.