Better than a Blue Ribbon

A Norwich terrier running

Bruno was born June 7, 2008. Bru, as he was affectionately called, became part of our family in October of 2008. He was a Norwich terrier, grizzle and tan.

Bruno was a fluff Norwich, and in the world of show dogs, a single coat is a disqualification, so he could not be a show dog. I loved his soft coat. I couldn’t have been happier. He was just what I wanted.

When Bru was seven months old I was walking and socializing him at a local outdoor mall when I noticed an elderly couple walking by. The woman was using a walker and I thought it would be interesting to see if the squeaky wheels and noise would bother Bru. He didn’t flinch.

We all sat down and the husband asked if he could hold Bru. Of course Bru wiggled and squirmed as most pups would react. The wife turned and held her arms out as if asking if she could hold Bru, and to my surprise, Bru purposely leaned into her chest and gently licked her under her chin. The more he licked, the more the wife would giggle and say how good it felt and how she loved it.

After a while we parted ways, but 10 minutes later the husband found me and tapped me on the shoulder; as I turned, I noticed that he was in tears. At first I thought something had happened to his wife, but he said no. He wanted me to know that he thought Bru was worth a million dollars. I thought he was saying that Bru was cute. “No,” he said, “you don’t understand, my wife had a stroke a year ago and she hasn’t talked since. Your dog did that. Bless you and your dog for helping my wife find her voice.”

This was my sign that Bruno was more than just a pet. I called Delta Society (now Pet Partners) about having him become a therapy dog. He had the right temperament and disposition. He eagerly mastered all that was required for therapy animal registration over the next five months. When he was one year old, he and I passed the therapy animal evaluation with high marks and earned credentials as a Pet Partners team.

A smiling woman holding a Norwich terrier

A couple of weeks later we started volunteering one day a week at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Woodland Hills, CA. We are able to visit in all the units of the hospital. Bru was the Safety and Breast Cancer Awareness mascot for Kaiser, and the staff lovingly nicknamed him “Ocito Gordito” which means “chubby little bear.”

A therapy dog brings smiles, responsiveness, and joy to patients, staff, and loved ones by the giving of unconditional love. This in turn helps direct people’s attention and mindset away from pain, fear, distress, and anxiety.

As an opportunity for patients to engage with Bruno, he was allowed to get Cheerios as a treat while with the patients. After about 15 or so Cheerios, sometimes he would let out a belch that came all the way from his toes. Regardless of the patient’s reason for our visit, his belches would bring belly laughs from everybody around.

Bruno would talk to the patients in his Norwich guttural vocalization. He could “whisper” to them on command. Everybody loved to hear him whisper. He would pick his person and say, “I Love You.”

I have seen Bru work his magic with patients, visitors, children, and staff in the years we have been at Kaiser. Most visits with patients were joyful and full of laughter. But sometimes the visits were emotionally hard.

Bru and I were asked to come into a room where a hospice patient was near death. She was asleep and looked very peaceful. The patient’s husband said that Bru reminded him of a dog they had years ago. He was hoping that his wife could see Bru. The entire family was by her side as I placed him on the bed next to her.

He sniffed her and crawled up on her and snuggled in on her chest and licked her under her chin over and over again. She opened her eyes, looked at him, petted him and repeatedly thanked her husband for bringing ‘their’ dog. She held onto Bru tightly and with a grin she took her last breath and passed away.

Once she passed, Bru stopped licking her and gently backed away. I could hardly move. The family kept thanking me and Bru because she got to leave this world with a smile on her face and a happy memory to take with her. That was a tough visit. I had to go outside to bring myself back into focus.

Bru was also a registered Medical Alert Service Dog. He showed this inborn ability at about 19 months old. He repeatedly alerted me when my blood sugar had fallen to low levels. He identified and alerted many patients in the hospital with low blood sugar. One day while on a visit, he alerted that a patient had low blood sugar. I notified a nurse, who came in and tested the patient’s blood sugar level; it was found to be very low.

In addition to our work at Kaiser, we also participated in children’s reading programs; provided support for children with autism, chronic health problems, special needs, trauma, and grief; visited people in nursing homes and hospice; and spoke at many places about our work as a therapy animal team.

At one of these other visits, Bru made a connection with a 12-year-old boy with autism, and within minutes Bru helped the boy relax his body and the boy sat next to Bru and interacted, petting and kissing Bru. As his mother watched in amazement, the boy turned to his mother and said, “Doggie.” This was his very first word. The entire room was in tears.

Bruno was awarded the AKC THDD title, currently the highest recognition for a therapy dog for over 400 visits, in 2011. We had completed well over 1,000 visits as of 2019.

Bruno may not have been a show dog, but he earned far more than a blue ribbon for all he did to comfort so many.

A Norwich terrier in a therapy dog vest lies with a client

Tinytowne’s Hodge’s Little Bruno
June 7, 2008–November 7, 2020


submitted by Carole Hodge