Gatsby Makes the Children Happy

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TYLER — Gatsby is on full alert. He sits patiently on his doggie yoga mat, wearing an official therapy dog vest, looking up with his tail slightly wagging as another batch of elementary school students head our way. They arrive at our station on a bench on the sidewalk along the school parking lot. At the behest of their teacher, they sit in front of Gatsby, our cavapoo rescue dog, while I go through my brief spiel.

“This is Gatsby. He is a registered therapy dog. That means his primary job is to make people happy,” I tell them. They nod and scootch closer to Gatsby. Soon, it is time to stand up and take turns petting the pup, who sits patiently as if a monarch being approached by his subjects. One by one, they rub his head. I allow one or two kids per class to give him a treat, not wanting him to overload on them. Gatsby politely takes the treat from a child’s outstretched palm, both child and pup grinning.

It is Career Day here as the semester winds to a close. I have been invited to bring Gatsby on what is his largest public gathering by far. Here to date, he has hung out in PetSmart, visited a regular-sized classroom at LeTourneau University and popped in to say hello at the Longview Museum of Fine Arts. Gatsby seems to enjoy art, especially sculpture. He gazed at one piece so long I got worried about an out-of-character leg-hiking and moved him safely away. He has never exhibited such poor behavior in public but no sense taking chances.

At Career Day, there is a fire truck and ambulance parked on the lot — always popular with the kiddoes. But Gatsby attracts plenty of attention as well, being the only dog attending this event. He is normally fairly shy but today understood it was time to put that game face on for the approximately 300 kiddoes who wanted to rub his head and back. That is a lot of head rubs for a dog who less than two years ago was strictly confined to a crate in a puppy mill.

Daughter Abbie deserves credit for finding Gatsby (then named Cowboy — ugh) on a local animal rescue site. That young woman has a knack for finding great dogs, including Mollie the Maltese, her late siblings Rosie and Sam, and the latest granddog, a puppy who goes by Teddy — short for Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy is ridiculously cute with one black eye and one white eye, a prizefighter look that serves this feisty pup well. He is a HavaMalt — Havanese and Maltese — which sounds like something one would order from a soda fountain. Remember those?

Back to Gatsby. After roughly 28 weeks of one-hour training sessions, Gatsby climbed the ladder to become a registered therapy dog with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. To keep an active membership, he must make three public appearances every three months. Showing up at the elementary school for Career Day ought to count double, given the number of head pats he received. Several kiddoes told me Gatsby was their favorite Career Day station, even ahead of the firefighters. That is strong praise indeed.

For two-and-a-half hours, Gatsby sat on his haunches, tail wagging as one platoon after another of kids came by. Once the event had concluded, daughter Kasey and I took him to a nearby dog-friendly Mexican restaurant with outdoor seating. Gatsby promptly collapsed beneath my chair, raising his head occasionally for the proffered piece of a chip, an occasional small piece of chicken. After lunch, we headed home, where Gatsby promptly curled up in his crate for a well-deserved nap.

Gasby definitely earned his pay during Career Day.

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