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Canine connection: Therapy dog brightens day for Oklahoma City nursing home residents

Jake the Siberian husky delights residents at Tuscany Village Nursing Center in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoman Modified: February 24, 2014 at 6:00 pm •  Published: February 24, 2014

By the breeding standards of the American Kennel Club, Jake the Siberian husky doesn’t amount to anything resembling a show dog. He’s a little too tall, his head is too big and at 97 pounds, Jake is too heavy.

But height and weight can’t measure heart, and Jake has plenty of that. The 4-year-old dog has helped his friend, J.R. Cook, recover from a heart attack that nearly killed him four years ago. And when he’s not with Cook, he’s prowling the halls of nursing homes and hospitals in Oklahoma City working as a therapy dog.

Jake has his own business card with his name and photo that Cook hands out to those he visits. The card says “I care.” Cook decided Jake needed a way to fill his idle time after reading a story about therapy dogs visiting the Oklahoma City University law school.

“Jake is well-behaved, and I thought he might be able to make a difference,” Cook said. “I decided to go that route. And we also visited with a pet communicator who told me Jake had
told her he wanted to be a therapy dog. I don’t know if I believe that, but it has been very rewarding for both of us.”

Jake was trained as a therapy dog by A New Leash on Life.

The course helps prepare handlers and their dogs for things they might encounter while visiting a nursing home or hospital. Jake made about 100 visits last year.

‘Always gets a smile’

Julie Tudor, 46, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 17 and lives at Tuscany Village Nursing Center in Oklahoma City.

Tudor can no longer speak, and her vision has declined, but she still can hear and can mouth words.

She always has been a dog lover but was forced to give up hers after her health began to decline.

Jake hops up on a chair next to her bed and puts his head down next to her shoulder.

“She looks forward to that connection every week,” said Gay Tudor, Julie’s mother. “It’s very special for her. Jake always gets a smile.”

Cook and Jake spend about 15 minutes in the room with the family.

But the time is well spent. Boyd Tudor sees the light in his daughter’s eyes when her furry friend stops by.

The family gets by with the help of visits like Jake’s and a good sense of humor. One of Julie’s favorite expressions is “this isn’t my first rodeo.”

“We use humor as a way of making things better in a bad situation,” Boyd Tudor said.

“We work together as a family, and we just try to keep the best attitude we can. Jake brings a lot of enjoyment to Julie. I think the smile on her face tells the story.”

As Jake climbs down from his chair Cook takes his leash.

Julie mouths the words “I love Jake, and I love for him to visit.”

When Jake came into Cook’s life months after his heart attack he was so small Cook could hold him in one hand.

As Jake grew, so did their bond. Cook doesn’t call himself Jake’s owner. That word doesn’t begin to cover their relationship.

“The Creator is sharing Jake with me,” Cook said. “I don’t own him.”

Caring for a puppy while recovering might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but it worked for Cook. Jake forced him to get his exercise by playing or taking him for a walk.

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by Matt Patterson
Matt Patterson has been with The Oklahoman since 2006. Prior to joining the news staff in 2010, Patterson worked in The Oklahoman's sports department for five years. He previously worked at The Lawton Constitution and The Edmond Sun....
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