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Connecting people one wag at a time

Pet therapy dog brings joy to Silver Spring community

Created date

September 20th, 2011

She s like candy, Karen Spicer says of her furry friend, Ginger. Everyone wants a piece of her. Spicer, community resources coordinator at Riderwood, an Erickson Living community in Silver Spring, Md., is the part-time parent for the loveable beagle. The eight-year-old canine has begun accompanying Spicer to work, serving as a certified Pets on Wheels therapy dog at Renaissance Gardens, the continuum of care neighborhood on campus. Residents all over the campus look forward to seeing the adorable Ginger strolling around the community.

An unusual tail

Since November 2010, Spicer has been sharing caretaking duties of Ginger with her friend Diane, who has her hands full with a family of four children and a husband. Spicer picks Ginger up on the first Sunday of each month and drops her back off on the third Sunday. It s a win-win-win for everyone: Diane gains a bit more freedom by having one less mouth to feed and paw to clean; Ginger gets to share her love among many people; and Spicer s life is enriched by her part-time canine companion. Then there s the additional win of the interaction with the community members at Riderwood. Beagles are generally known for their wild and crazy nature along with that incessant bellowing howl but Ginger is unusual for her breed. Though she does have neurotic moments when her tail wags in overdrive, especially when there s food or a service person in uniform around, she s endearing, sweet, and well-behaved. I fell in love with her upon first sight, Spicer says. And she just knew that somehow this dog was special. Spicer felt that Ginger had a gift to connect people.

Certified paws

Spicer decided that leaving Ginger at home while she was at work was a disservice to all those involved, and she wanted to share Ginger s sweetness with the folks on campus. She s incredibly extroverted, Spicer says. She begs people to greet her. And in that begging, people have a tendency to become more open. Spicer notices it when she walks Ginger around the neighborhood where she lives. When she used to walk by herself, people would rarely talk to her. Now that she walks with Ginger, Spicer has noticed that people open up, say hello, ask questions about the dog, and smile more. And Spicer realized that if she could do that around her neighborhood, she knew Ginger would have a strong impact on the residents and families at Renaissance Gardens. Ginger has the ability to bless people, Spicer says. Along with enriching her life, the now-certified pet therapy dog sparks connections, conversations, and laughter. She enables others to open up. As they reach out and touch Ginger, they re reaching outside of themselves. People break out of their shells when she s around, Spicer says. Riderwood s community members also look forward to seeing their furry friend roaming the grounds. A woman staying at Renaissance Gardens, who has never met Ginger before, transforms as soon as she sees the friendly pooch. I ve been waiting for this dog! she says before reaching down and touching the dog with the wagging tail. Spicer commends Ginger s ability to connect people. She s such an affectionate and relational dog always desperate to be petted, loved, affirmed, Spicer says. Even people who don t normally like dogs seem to be enamored by her sweetness. Ginger takes on many roles at Riderwood part-time resident, part-time social worker, full-time joy-bringer. For now, Ginger fulfills her pet therapy duties once a week at Renaissance Gardens. While visiting people, she helps them reach beyond the everyday, and she does this by offering a lick, a wag, and a whole lot of love.