Going to the Dogs Is Good for the Soul

Ann Goldman and Lacie (therapy dog) brighten the day for Cooper Hicks

Ann Goldman and Lacie (therapy dog) brighten the day for Cooper Hicks

Every two weeks, the Ronald McDonald house door bursts open to reveal a spunky and spirited Cavalier Spaniel named Lacie who could not be happier to be there – and of course, her owner, Ann Goldman, who is equally thrilled.

Lacie’s visits to the Ronald McDonald house are a welcome diversion for the residents and guests, especially for the siblings of sick children who remain there with their families while a sibling receives treatment. When she’s not showering her audience with joy and many kisses, Lacie puts on quite a show, too.

Ann Goldman explains: “When we go in, most of the kids are so excited to see her – and she’s excited to see them, too. They always say, ‘Can your dog do tricks?’ And then when I show them what she can do, ‘Can I try it?’ So I train the kids to work with Lacie. They love it.”

At one point, the kids wanted to emulate not only the owner, but the dog, too. As Ann tells the story, “They all lined up next to Lacie and when she would roll over, they would roll over. When she would jump, they would jump. When she would speak, they would speak… well, bark. It only got a little tricky when Lacie jumped through my arms as a hoop. But, the kids all tried!”

Ann and her son, Luke, moved to the Old Northeast last summer from Annapolis. She worked as an art director for a media firm there, and always had an eye for interior design. Ann fell in love with the sense of community the Old Northeast neighborhood displays, especially through its porch parties, neighborly fellowship, and many events. When she arrived in the neighborhood, Ann felt right at home, but she also made it a priority to continue her volunteer work with Lacie.

2-b“The Ronald McDonald House is a good place to go – it’s one of the more upbeat places. Even so, some children are terrified of dogs,” Ann says. “Some of them hide behind their moms. To get them to not be afraid of Lacie, I hold her like a baby, and then they can start to pet her soft fur from the back. That way they can learn that dogs can be gentle and nice without having them in their face.”

As Ann tells the story, she pulls Lacie onto her lap and demonstrates. Calmly and contentedly, Lacie sits curled up in her owner’s arms like a baby. It’s another side of the exuberant and energetic dog.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have a long history as devoted companions. They appear in countless portraits of nobility that adorn museum walls. Competing reasons for their popularity at the time cite their usefulness not only as great lap dogs, but also as lap warmers and flea attractors for comfort of their human companions. They are currently the 18th most popular pure-breed in America.

When her son Luke was six, Ann decided to get a dog. Luke’s only request at the time was that it be a little dog with soft ears and a big tail. Ann did her homework diligently to find the right match. After researching different types of family dogs, Ann settled on the Cavalier Spaniel. In her research, she had also discovered their aptitude as therapy dogs.

Ann’s first Cavalier Spaniel was black and white (unlike Lacie’s white and mahogany brown coat, called Blenheim coloring, which is named for the Blenheim estate of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, who popularized the breed in the 1700s). Ann decided to have it trained as a therapy dog, just as Lacie would experience. A few weeks of training later, and of course, after many practical tests to qualify the dogs, Ann was ready to begin her volunteer work.

“They have to pass all these tests to qualify,” Ann explains. “They have to avoid food, not be fazed by loud noises, other dogs, or any sudden movements or noises.”

Ann finds solace and a great deal of perspective in her volunteering activities. “The situations some families are in provide so much perspective. It motivates me to find and make time even during the busiest weeks.”

When not volunteering her time, Ann is busy with her boutique home rental business, Porch Swing. Inspired by the porch culture of the Old Northeast, Ann set out to refurbish vintage bungalows, cottages, and carriage houses in the neighborhoods, and turn them into charming rentals, each equipped, of course, with its own unique porch swing.

Lacie shows off one of her many tricks: jumping through the hoop.

Lacie shows off one of her many tricks: jumping through the hoop.

Surprisingly, as a current owner of three dogs, Ann didn’t grow up with dogs. She had cats and birds, a parakeet that started talking in full sentences. She also owned some eccentric pets over the years, including a crafty raccoon which rose to infamy among her friends when the roast disappeared one night at a dinner party and he was caught with it, literally red-handed. But even that pet, odd though a raccoon may be, proved to be a great companion. All of these pets contributed to the type of loving and attentive owner Ann is today with her dogs.

“Dogs can do amazing things to turn people around. Animals just have a way of relating to you,” Ann says with a smile.

Ann tells a story of a friend of hers who also volunteered with a therapy dog and visited a nursing home. He met a woman who was quite frail and ill. He spent time with her, despite the staff’s insistence that she wasn’t long for this world and that he might be wasting his energy. The next day, she was still there. And the next. He continued to visit, and his dog was the highlight of her day. The staff noticed the drastic change in the woman’s attitude once the dog was introduced to her routine. She went to bed each night with something wonderful to look forward to, and whatever magic was there certainly worked: She lived months longer than expected.

Ann aims to bring the same kind of joy and hope into as many people’s lives as she can, with the help of a very sweet dog. It emulates the kind of community fellowship she admires in the Old Northeast neighborhood – and she plans to keep it alive and well.

To become a volunteer at a local Ronald McDonald house, visit RMHCTampaBay.com. To learn about the process to train and certify a dog for therapeutic volunteering, visit ProjectPup.net.

by Sara W. Hopkins