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The way we feel about our dogs has been changing for a long time, as I’ve often noted. In my lifetime (and in my own life) they’ve gone from the barnyard to the backyard to the kitchen to the bedroom to the bed. And our love for them has become more encompassing; we now celebrate mixed breeds and shelter adoptions, in addition to purebreds and show dogs. Again, what goes on in my own life reflects that trend: The last three dogs to join our family are “canine cocktails," and the very last, my darling Pit-Lab mix Gracie, was a hard-luck shelter case. One thing that hasn't changed: Our dogs are family.
When I first met journalist Ernie Slone at Global Pet Expo a few years ago, I knew we were destined to be friends. That’s because like me, he is passionate about what I call “The Bond,” that special link between people and animals. His life and his work are a celebration of the important role of animals in all our lives.
Slone is the editor of the popular magazine Dog Fancy and the online site that goes with it. He’s an experienced journalist with a nose for news, and that’s a good thing. But it’s his heartfelt passion for all things dog that had us connecting as friends the first time we talked.
“For the last 18 years, my wife and I have been very involved in dogs, volunteering and doing a lot,” he told me recently. “It’s one of those things where you do something you love, and you look up some day and all of a sudden you’re running the volunteer program. I think it has been this natural evolution of getting more and more involved in learning about things. You know, I feel I’d like to do twice as much as we do.”
What he and his wife, Vicki, do is a lot for two busy people. They volunteer every week socializing dogs at a rescue to make them more adoptable, as well as regularly taking their own dogs to visit patients at a local hospital.
“For two and a half years, we took our therapy dog to the children’s hospital and also the adult hospital,” he said. “We were going three times a week, but the therapy dog programs are growing, and the children’s hospital got to a point where they have more than 40 dogs now. The adult hospital had six or seven dogs, and we were needed much more there. So that’s what we are doing now.”
One of the couple’s Cairn Terriers seems to have been born for this type of work, and he was the one who literally dragged them into volunteering.
The Slones walk their dogs in a park near a nursing home, and it was there that they discovered one of their dogs had a gift. “Patients were brought over in the evening by the walking path. Gordon started pulling us over to go see the people in the wheelchairs. He wanted to go visit with them and he wanted to go sit with them. One evening, one of the other walkers came by with her Old English Sheepdog and said, ‘Well, that dog’s a natural therapy dog.’“
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