This week, we’re introducing a new contributing writer, Susan Reznicsek of NottaBear Newfoundlands. Each month, she’ll be writing about the world of therapy and service dogs, including how dogs are selected and the training process along with her personal experiences sharing her family’s gentle giants.
I am happy to share with you my wonderful kennel of Newfoundland granddogs. They are loyal and loving and have brought healing and love to so many people including my family. They make my heart sing with joy.
I grew up on a farm and loved all of the animals. I even had a pet cow named Pee Wee. We always had a dog or two, and they were my friends. I even named my first dog, Pal, because she was my pal, my buddy, my friend.
After I was married my husband liked dogs as well, and we had a cocker spaniel and a border collie-shepherd mix. When our daughter, Rebecca, was born she grew up with the dogs. She loved animals and throughout the years had many pets including, dogs, cats, rabbits, a squirrel, a ferret, turtles, birds, and horses.
Rebecca suffered for years with the debilitating mental disease known as Agoraphobia, the fear of public places. As the disease progressed, she lived in her bedroom for 12 years. After years of frustration and trying to find help; after accepting this was the way life would be, Rebecca and I decided to try a service dog.
It began with a lot of research. What type of breed did Rebecca enjoy? What type of dog did she need for service? What were the laws for service dogs? What type of training did they need?
When a neighbor, who owned a kennel, discovered we were searching for a service dog she told us, “If you want a service dog, get a show dog. There is no better socialization training than a dog show!” So the research for pedigrees and dogs in the show ring began. It was a like an open door of hope.
Rebecca always loved her pets, and the thought of a service dog spurred her on to find an answer. Rebecca shared with me her findings and desires, and I was as excited as she was for this new avenue of help.
Rebecca liked large breed dogs, and she discovered that the Newfoundland was a gentle, loyal, and brave dog who loves its humans. She didn’t want an active dog but one who would calmly stay by her side each day. One day my son-in-law, Jon, brought me a picture of a Newfoundland puppy. He said, “This is the one.” I answered, “How do you know?” He responded, “Look at the face.”
The puppy was from the Czech Republic in Europe. The breeder was helpful and kind and wanted to help Rebecca with one of her puppies. We went through all the arrangements for shipping the puppy to America. She arrived at the airport on Rebecca’s birthday. Jon put the puppy in Rebecca’s arms, and she immediately jumped out of bed and went outside with her new puppy.
The puppy was a distraction for Rebecca. Her focus wasn’t on her illness but on caring for her dog. She named her puppy ShellBea and placed her in obedience training classes. Rebecca took ShellBea with her everywhere she went. In stores she would train ShellBea to stay by her side at all times, ignoring all distractions.
I remember the first time I went with Rebecca and ShellBea to a large department store. I was concerned regarding people’s reactions to such a large dog in the store. I was totally amazed at ShellBea’s behavior. She did not sniff shelves or the floor. She stayed by Rebecca and ignored all noises and people. Rebecca was always kind to people who wanted to pet ShellBea, who stood regal and calm and let people pet her. It was amazing to watch.
Since agoraphobia is hereditary, we were not surprised when we saw symptoms in Rebecca’s daughter, Bethany. We didn’t waste any time and searched for a dog just for her. And we soon welcomed Shadrach into our family. Shadrach is the biggest love of the entire family. Huge, beautiful and gentle, he loves children, people and has a sense when he knows someone needs him. He makes the perfect service/therapy dog.
My granddogs bring joy to me. One of my favorite things is when they gather in the kitchen when I am cooking a meal. My kitchen isn’t large, so it is hard to walk around them. However, I tell them what I am making and it is like having my own cooking show!! I have shown them how to make hamburger vegetable soup and chicken enchiladas. Of course, while I believe they are actually listening to me, in reality, they are waiting for me to drop something on the floor or share a little bite! Which, of course, I do because who can resist those sweet begging faces!
I was working in a cancer clinic and made arrangements for the dogs to visit. The response from the staff, as well as the patients, was amazing and heartwarming. We began bringing them on a regular basis and eventually included nursing homes, schools and private home visits in our repertoire. It was a blessing to see the love our dogs brought to so many people.
Because Rebecca received so much help with her puppy, she wanted to give back. She wanted to give to others what she had received from ShellBea, unconditional love, and care. I loved the service work and was in total agreement with her plan. So the kennel began to grow. Each dog became a member of our family and a member of the community, serving those who were in need. When we took the dogs out in public, so many people asked, “Is that a bear?” We responded, “No, that’s not a bear!” And so our kennel became NottaBear Newfoundlands. As Rebecca posts new pictures of the dogs and their daily activities we have become known around the world. Our dogs are dogs, they play, they dig, and they like sticks. Most importantly they bring love, joy, healing, education and hope to many, and do it all with a wagging tail.