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Patti Anderson & Neka: Comforting Veterans

Patti Anderson
Pet Partners Handler & Evaluator
Patti Anderson and her therapy dog Neka visit a woman in a nursing home.
Patti Anderson and her therapy dog Neka visit a woman in a nursing home.

Neka was a petite, one year old, black and white, blue-eyed Siberian Husky, that was on death row in Wisconsin. The police had arrested and sent her owner to jail for several months, and Neka was locked up in the pound. They were overflowing with dogs and no one wanted her, so one of the local rescues stepped in and helped to save her.

I adopted her from the rescue as a companion for “Charlie”, a registered Pet Partners therapy dog. His kennel mate had passed several months before, and I thought this little husky would be a good fit for our family. The two of them got along well, although Neka had partial seizures the first year, that eventually cleared up, leaving her fairly high strung as a result.

When Neka was about 7 years old, she settled down and seemed to want a job. She loved people and was well behaved, so she became a therapy dog too! She and I were invited to be a part of the “Smart Recovery” group of veterans, many from the Vietnam War area, downtown at the CRRC (Community Resource and Referral Center). It is a center where homeless veterans can use a computer, wash their clothes, get medical attention and mental health support too.

Through rain or snow, Neka commuted downtown from the suburbs and attended sessions with the social worker and group members for an hour and a half every Monday morning like clockwork. She only missed her group two times in three years.

Neka was an integral member of the “Smart Recovery” group. She did a check-in each week as the members went around the table. Neka shared if she had been bullied by another dog, had enjoyed a good snack, or was stressed out about something. The group members related to her tough start in life and with what she shared too, saying they had been bullied on the bus getting there, or that there had been no luck with finding a job, so were stressed out too. Each week of group deepened their bond with this little husky.

When Neka walked into the room, she just naturally would go around to each member, rest her head on their knee, wait until they pet her, then would move on to the next person. She would then settle down and rest on her mat and at the end of the session would repeat making the rounds with everyone. This was not a trained behavior. Neka from day one had a calling to do this type of work at the CRRC and it was amazing just to be a part of it with her.

At the last holiday gathering for the group, when the cookies and the Santa gifts had been opened, one of the members that had been through so much in his life, started petting Neka and said, “You know girl, I will be alone again this year for the holiday, but am lucky to have celebrated with all of you today, look we all even have a dog!” Neka set her head on his knee as the veteran turned his head away from the group so they wouldn’t see his tears.