Adopted Therapy Dog Defies the Odds

He’s there to encourage the kids, but they cheer him on, too.

every gift saves lives

every gift saves lives

Jessica + Trot

The day we met Trot at Sterling Animal Shelter, we immediately fell in love. He was chubby and couldn’t even keep his eyes open. Shelter staff told us this was because he was their favorite and they had been taking him home each night. He quickly became our favorite, too, as he nuzzled his way into our hearts and our bed!

"Each time he enters a room, the atmosphere changes and everyone appears more relaxed. "

As an occupational therapist, I had hopes of training Trot as a therapy dog, so I was beyond excited when he passed his Dog B.O.N.E.S (Building Opportunities for Nurturing and Emotional Support) certification, which allowed him to brighten the days of the at-risk youth with whom I worked. Around this time, our daughter Grace arrived, and as suspected Trot stepped up to be the most loving, protective big brother.

Trot began his therapy duties at Youth Opportunities Upheld, Inc. Each time he enters a room, the atmosphere changes and everyone appears more relaxed. He feels out the room and then climbs onto the lap of a deserving individual, who most often responds with, “Trot, how did you know I needed this?” His favorite work task is leading a group for young children in a residential facility. He shows off his tricks and then sits on the floor as the kids pat him and ask questions. To conclude, each child is taught a simple method to draw a dog and writes a note that I read to Trot before bed.

As we welcomed our second child, Caleb, we got the devastating news that Trot had mandibular osteosarcoma (jawbone cancer). Despite his prognosis of 18 months to live, we planned his treatment. We had the tumor removed, then with Caleb in tow, Trot went for 20 consecutive radiation treatments and proceeded through five sessions of chemotherapy. Trot was a trooper, but it was a very difficult time for the whole family.

Flash forward, an amazing three years later, and Trot remains cancer free! He continues to have the opportunity to brighten the lives of traumatized youth while teaching them about resiliency. We are often asked why Trot’s tongue hangs out of his mouth. This charming feature allows me to share all that Trot has been through. Kids feel inspired when they hear that Trot lives a happy and fulfilled life despite experiencing homelessness and a life-threatening illness. They write him the sweetest notes about how proud they are of him and how much he helps them.

Outside of Trot’s successful career as a therapy dog, he is the highlight of the day when our family is together. He treasures bedtime stories and waits patiently on Grace’s bed while the kids brush their teeth so he can cuddle and listen to each book. Currently, we are planning our family’s Halloween costumes. From Mr. Smee in “Peter Pan” to the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in “Ghostbusters,” Trot always wears his costume with pride. Every year we count our blessings that Trot can continue to be a part of this special tradition. This year we’re being a family of dinosaurs!

Each year, the Petco Foundation invites adopters to share the story of how their adopted pet changed their lives during the annual Holiday Wishes campaign, giving the organization that they adopted from a chance to receive a grant award. This story by Jessica O’Connor won Sterling Animal Shelter in Massachusetts a 2017 Holiday Wishes award.