Ernie Slone and dog

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.

"You Do Something You Love"

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.”

Connecting Pets and People

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.’“

Therapy dogs

And so he is. In the more than five and a half years since then, Gordon has visited with about 19,000 people. And while Gordon works his magic, Slone listens — and gathers ideas for Dog Fancy.

“I’ll sit there and talk to the patient, or the doctor, the nurse or visitor, and people will tell you stories about their dogs,” he said. “I’ll hear all kinds of stories from all kinds of people about things that are happening with dogs. That interaction is incredibly valuable to me because I learn about things that I know that Dog Fancy should be covering.”

And more and more, says my friend, the stories he’s hearing are about the human-animal bond.

“I believe that we are at the dawn of a new age in our connection with animals,” he said. “Dogs — and pets in general — are becoming much more important in our everyday lives. The research that is going to be coming out over the next two years is pretty amazing. Not only what dogs mean to us… but also in terms of childhood development, in terms of their ability to treat mental illness, to treat autism, to treat dementia. I am so excited for the work that’s being done, and the potential for what’s going to happen. The more I see about what’s being done, the more excited I get about it.”

I know exactly how he feels, and that’s why we’re such good friends.