Boomer's big break


A stray dog in a small Alabama town found a home and a calling visiting nursing homes with a young veterinarian.

After I graduated from veterinary school, I was eager to get my feet wet in community service. I knew several clients who worked with PAWS—Pets Are Working Servants—a ministry that takes pets to visit local nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. I wanted to participate, but I didn't own the right pet for the job. Then came Boomer. Boo, as I affectionately call him, was a stray dog in a small central Alabama town. No one knew his owner, but he had many mothers who fed him when he came by for an occasional visit.

Kristi Busby, DVM, is pictured here with her dogs Tristan and Boomer. "Boomer will approach anyone for attention; he's never met a stranger," Dr. Busby says.

Unfortunately, not everyone loved Boo. He often hung around a local discount store, where he eagerly approached customers for attention. But his large size was intimidating. His matted hair covered his entire body, and the classic dirty dog smell didn't earn him pats. The store owners threatened to shoot him or take him to the local shelter if someone didn't remove him.

My aunt took him in, and that's how I met Boomer. I'd never seen such a gentle soul. And his markings were beautiful, despite his rough exterior. He was a blue merle collie, with one brown eye and one blue eye. When I visited my aunt's house, I teased her that if she ever found Boo gone, she only needed to call me. He'd be at my house.

Several months later, my aunt and her family gave me a very special Christmas present—an official certificate of ownership for Boo. My aunt loved Boomer, but she thought that I could offer him more than she could. She loved Boomer enough to give him to me, and I'll never forget the joy I felt at the chance to own such a special dog.

A healing touch

When I got Boomer home, he still needed treatment for heartworm infestation, he had an umbilical hernia, and he needed to be neutered. As I took care of the problems inside, I also worked on the outside. Each month his coat grew prettier, his eyes shone brighter, and his demeanor grew livelier. By spring, this unwanted stray had turned into the most beautiful collie. All the while, he kept the same gentle spirit I first loved about him.

The American Kennel Club recently granted Boomer a good citizenship award. He’s also a member of Therapy Dogs International Inc. What makes Boomer an ideal pet therapy dog, Dr. Busby says, is that he’s very quiet and patient around residents, and he’ll stand next to them for as long as they want to pet him.

I jumped at the first chance to evaluate Boo for certification as a pet therapy dog with PAWS. After completing the necessary requirements, the night finally arrived for us to visit our first nursing home together. As I drove up to the nursing home I told Boo, "This is what you were born to do. You were born to be my dog and to brighten these folks' day."

Boomer's calling

Boo loves his visits to the nursing home. He often leaves me behind as he roams the halls looking for open doors and receptive residents. Many residents come out of their rooms after a visit and watch him. Some even wheel down the hall to pet him again. I often hear, "Boy, that's a big dog," and, "He sure does have a lot of hair."

Boo's size is now an asset—perfect for those in wheelchairs. Most residents don't even need to bend over to pet him.

He patiently sits in front of the residents as they stroke him. If they stop petting him, he gently nudges their hands, as if to say, "Hey there, remember me? Don't get too busy chatting with my owner to pet me!"

My favorite part of the visits is a comment I've heard several times from residents: "Did you see that? He just came right up to me as if he were my dog. It's like he knows me." And I reply, "I did see that. You must have a special way with dogs, because he just took right to you." Each time their faces just light up.

Boomer makes each resident feel so special, and I can't describe the joy he brings me. I feel truly blessed to have this stray that nobody wanted. As many PAWS group members have said, Boo was meant for this work. And he was meant to be my special dog.

EDITORS' NOTE: Do you have a special story to share about the bond between people and pets? E-mail us at; fax (913) 492-4157; or write to Firstline, 8033 Flint, Lenexa, KS 66214.

Kristi W. Busby, DVM, is a veterinarian in Millbrook, Ala. Please send your questions or comments

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