I adopted Sunny, a beautiful golden lab, from the Escondido Humane Society on Valentine’s Day, 2002, when he was almost two years old. He went from being an unwanted dog to one of the most cherished dogs a family, or the community, could ever imagine.
In a short time Sunny was certified as a therapy dog and began accompanying me to schools, camps and pet-therapy visits each day. He’s always been gentle and mellow when meeting people, from toddlers to senior, and seems to have a knack for knowing when someone needs a soft look, a gentle paw or a big, hairy head on their lap. He became akin to a rock star when we would enter a school yard with cries of, “There’s Sunny!” coming from scores of excited children. Children who were previously afraid of big dogs would happily come running over to see Sunny.
One particular story will always stay in my mind involves a pet-therapy visit. We were visiting Casa de Las Companas in Rancho Bernardo. When we first arrived, I was first met by a woman who was just asked to sign “end of life” papers for her mother. The daughter was also just diagnosed with cancer. Overwhelmed, she bent down on the floor and threw her arms around Sunny’s neck and started to sob. Sunny never moved a muscle. The woman kept apologizing for her outburst, but Sunny seemed to understand that this woman needed him at this moment. After crying for a few minutes, she decided it would be a good idea for us to go to her mother’s room for a visit. When we left, both had big smiles on their faces from the compassion and comfort that Sunny was able to bring to them that afternoon.
In the past year, Sunny began experiencing problems getting around. It’s evident that his days as a San Diego Humane Society ambassador or “ambass-a-dog” have come to an end. He’s brought joy to hundreds of people for 11 years, but now it’s time for him to retire. Sunny now spends his retirement days at home with his doggie brothers and sisters, waiting for the rest of the family to get home – where he will always be treated like the special “rock star” that he is.
Ina Shookhoff is the Outreach Educator in the Community Engagement department at the Escondido campus of San Diego Humane Society.