WAVERLY TWP. — “Trooper Newman, come here,” said Joan Newman, holding up a green tennis ball.
The Australian labradoodle’s wavy ears perked up ever so slightly and he trotted across the room to where his 89-year old companion waited.
“Sit,” she commanded.
He complied, his eyes trained on the ball.
A flash of green flew through the air, and so did Trooper, as he caught it in his teeth with a leap.
The 9-year-old certified therapy dog is more than just a pet. To Mrs. Newman, who has lived alone since her husband Jack Newman died in 1997, he is family. And he provides companionship, comfort and protection.
But Newman doesn’t keep Trooper – and all he has to offer as a therapy dog – all to herself. The duo makes regular visits to patients and residents at various facilities within the not-for-profit corporation Allied Services Integrated Health System, of which Newman’s late husband was a founder.
Jim Brogna, vice president, Corporate Advancement and Communications at Allied, described Newman as “selfless.”
“I know she gets a benefit out of the companionship of her pets, but instead of being selfish and harboring that for herself, she wants to share that benefit with others,” he said.
And now the community is planning to give a little back, with an event in honor of Newman and in celebration of her upcoming 90th birthday.
The Parade for Pet Therapy will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, April 24 at the Lackawanna State Park. Entrance is free, and donations in support of pet therapy scholarships, as well as supplies for the Griffin Pond Animal Shelter, will be accepted. The event will include agility demonstrations, pet contests, a pet walk, information tables and various giveaways.
Brogna said he believes this is the perfect way to honor Newman, as it promotes a cause about which she is most passionate.
Newman first started her pet visits to Allied with her former dog Beau, who was also a family member to her. When Beau died at age 14-and-a-half, the organization held a memorial service, at which they presented Newman with a plaque in the dog’s memory.
Brogna said he believes it was Newman’s passion for pet therapy that prompted her to get a new dog after Beau’s death and go through the hard work of training Trooper to become a certified therapy dog, even though it must not have been an easy task at her age.
“I really think it’s her love of animals, and her passion,” he said. “Knowing that Trooper, like Beau, is a kind of animal that is a great companion to her, she felt like there was even greater value to how they could help make people’s lives brighter at Allied.”
Newman said helping the patients and residents take their minds off of their own problems brightens her own day as well.
“I love going there, I really do,” she said. “It makes me feel so good – it’s therapy for me, in a way.”
Newman has countless memories and stories to tell of special moments with both dogs.
She remembers taking Beau one day to the Alzheimer’s unit, where a nurse asked her to visit with a woman who was seated across the room in a wheelchair. She led her dog over to the resident, and the nurse placed the woman’s hand on Beau’s head. Newman introduced herself and began talking about the dog.
“All of a sudden, she said, ‘He’s beautiful. What is his name? What kind of dog is he?’” Newman said. “With that, the nurse turned to me and said, ‘Mrs. Newman, that is the first conversation we have ever heard from her.’”
Another time, she and Beau were visiting people who were undergoing physical therapy, when she noticed a woman sitting in a wheelchair, crying. When the dog came to her, the woman began stroking his head. Across the room was a large mirror.
“All of a sudden, Beau turns and he sees himself reflected in the mirror,” Newman said. “And with that, he gets up…and goes right up until he is nose to nose with himself on the mirror. And with that, the lady starts to laugh, and is so happy. And then everyone around her was laughing.
“That’s what therapy does. …It really rejuvenates the patients, or the residents.”
Brogna described pet therapy as “a calming influence for people that have developmental challenges or maybe Alzheimer’s.”
“You just see them so calm when they are able to sit there and pet the animal, and the dog sits there lovingly,” he said. “You realize all the benefits.”
More information about pet therapy will be available at the Parade for Pet Therapy on April 24, which is sponsored by Allied, Stately Pet Supply, The Little Red Dog House, wedding and event planner LC Solutions, the Newman family and other community members.
Joan Newman has four children, all of whom plan to be in town for the event: Nancy Newman, of Philadelphia; Gail Newman, of Scranton; Laurie Tuchel, who lives in the Bahamas and Scotland, and Jack Newman Jr., of Baltimore, Maryland. She also has six grandchildren and a great-grandson.
“I’m very excited about it,” she said. “They’re making a big event out of this for my birthday. …It’s really going to be great.”