Therapy dog leaves lasting impact on owner
Nope, not the characters in the daily comics – the real-life Charlie Brown of Aiken and his therapy dog.
Snoopy was still “working” with kids and adults well into 2012 even after turning 15 last May. Only over the summer and into early fall did his health begin to deteriorate. The black miniature schnauzer had to be put down at a veterinarian’s office in late September.
“I felt incredible grief,” said Charlie Brown. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but it needed to be done.”
Charlie Brown brought his new young dog Cooper to Millbrook Elementary School Monday to participate in Paws for Reading, a program affiliated with the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare.
Through the dogs, kids are encouraged to read. A schnauzer mix, Cooper Brown was great in just his second visit to the school.
“Snoopy can never be replaced,” Charlie Brown said, “but Cooper is another dog and he’s good company. He has his own little traits, and I’ve gotten very attached to the guy.”
When his best friend arrived in Charlie Brown’s life around 2000 as not much more than a puppy, Charlie had another name selected. Then a family friend’s daughter, Abi, 9, had a better idea.
“Why don’t you just call him Snoopy?” And it made perfect sense.
At that time, Charlie Brown and Snoopy were still living in Louisville, Ky., when they teamed up for therapy training. Charlie Brown had started that effort informally on his own, then got involved with the program called WAGS – Wonderful Animals Giving Support. Charlie Brown studied the process himself, enabling him to qualify as a training administrator.
Snoopy turned out with all kinds of talents. Soon after they moved to Aiken 10 years ago, Charlie Brown became a coach with the nationally-based “Lego League” robotics program – mostly at J.D. Lever Elementary School – helping out teacher Dr. Bridget Coleman and, later, teacher Nonica Livingston. Not surprisingly, the kids took to Snoopy immediately, as the dog was a natural at therapy. Charlie Brown would take Snoopy through Paws for Reading to the Aiken County Public Library. About three years ago, the program started at Millbrook.
“Snoopy had such a good time,” Charlie Brown said. “The absolutely wonderful thing about therapy dogs is that everybody wins – the kids, the dogs and their handlers. It’s a very positive, uplifting thing.”
Chrissey Miller, the SPCA’s development director, considered Charlie Brown and Snoopy a special team. When the dog’s illness persisted, she would send Charlie Brown emails to inquire about Snoopy’s condition, a gesture that Charlie Brown much appreciated.
After Snoopy passed away, Miller waited a while, then discovered Cooper at the shelter, then going by another name. She thought Charlie Brown might like him and told him, “We have a dog and every time I walk by, he whispers to me, ‘Where is Charlie Brown?’”
Of course, Charlie Brown couldn’t pass up Miller’s ingenious invitation. When Cooper saw him, the dog was lying down, then suddenly leaped up like a rocket. Cooper’s eyes got big and round, almost like he recognized that guy in front of him. Charlie Brown took him home as a foster dog and in two weeks, Cooper wasn’t leaving.
The dog still has a long way ahead before he becomes a registered therapy dog. Still, Charlie Brown is thrilled over the dog’s kindness and his capabilities as a quick learner. Cooper just takes things in stride.
For sure, though, Charlie Brown will remember a dog named so charmingly. The very real Snoopy could have had that comic strip bubble emerging from his head to show what he was thinking. When he entered a library room or a classroom, the children would erupt with joy.
“Snoopy just ate it up. He loved kids more than adults,” said Charlie Brown.