Most people preparing to retire have a few mementos they’ve acquired over the years.
But retiring Corvallis therapy dog Dustee has four or five boxes full of handmade cards, drawings and class projects to show the impact he’s made over his 13½ years as a therapy dog.
“I don’t think you’re going to meet to many kids in Corvallis who don’t know Dustee,” said Dustee’s owner, Jacque Barrington,
Barrington showed the Gazette-Times her schedule with Dustee for the month of April — he was set for 5 to 8 visits a week through the month, which she said is pretty representative of their workload. Over the years the pair’s volunteerism has included:
• Extensive work as a Reading Educational Assistance Dog doing regular visits to five Corvallis schools.
• Special visits to other schools.
• Shifts at the libraries in Corvallis and Albany.
• Visits to Oregon State University during the week before final examinations to help ease stressed-out students.
• Visits to people in hospitals, hospices, and retirement centers.
“People say to me ‘I thought you were retired,’” said Barrington, who taught first and second grade at Garfield Elementary School until 2000. “I am retired, but I’m a full-time volunteer.”
But Barrington said Dustee, a whippet who will be 15 in January, has needed to slow down his work schedule recently, and she plans to begin winding down his volunteer service in the coming months.
Barrington’s other whippet, a 15-month-old named Jackson, has recently passed his therapy dog certifications, and she plans to begin bringing him into the rotation in her volunteerism as soon as his certification card arrives. Then Dustee can get a bit more rest.
Barrington said at this point she’s not sure how Dustee will take the transition into retirement, since he’s been a working dog since he was just over a year old. So she plans to make the transition gradually.
“This is the only life he’s ever known,” she said. However, she said Dustee’s therapy certification will expire in January, and she doesn’t plan to renew his license.
Barrington said Dustee has been doing his work so long that sometimes she’ll meet college students while on visits to OSU who remember Dustee from when they were in elementary school. They’re often surprised he’s still alive.
Billie Smith, executive director of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, said she has been with the organization for 27 years and never heard of a longer-serving therapy dog than Dustee — although she said the organization doesn’t really track those kind of records.
Barrington said Dustee is a very social dog and gets excited doing his work.
“He just loves being around people, especially kids.”
She said it’s been rewarding for her too.
“We’re witnessing little miracles all the time,” Barrington said.
Barrington said with a therapy dog, kids can relax and that helps them overcome anxiety about reading.
“They don’t have to worry about messing up. They know Dustee is not going to judge them if they make a mistake.”
Barrington said she’s trained both Jackson and Dustee to be therapy dogs through obedience classes, and she thinks Jackson will be a natural at therapy work.
Barrington, now 75, said she plans to do her volunteer work with her dogs as long as her body holds up.
“I just like being around kids. It keeps me young,” she said.
Barrington added that her work with her dogs is worth doing because it brings joy to all involved: the people, the dogs and her.
“It’s adding joy to people’s lives. It’s fun to do that.”