Puck’s Magic Touch
“This is the only dog power I get,” says Hannah, kneeling on the floor of the Goose Nest in Hodson Hall Commons to pet a black-and-white English springer spaniel wriggling with delight at her attention. Brooke is also on her knees, running her hands over the dog’s silky fur. I grin at my two friends; few sights are as warm on the soul as that of a happy dog and people sharing in that happiness.
Laurie Walters, the dog’s owner and handler, later says it’s good they walked by when they did. “He was getting bored,” she says. “He’s a high-energy dog; he wants to be doing something.” At the moment, though, the canine in question lies calmly on the floor, clearly in his element as the two students fawn over him. It is, after all, his job. Because lucky for Washington College, the dog enjoying Hannah and Brooke’s ministrations is Puck, the school’s new therapy dog, who from here on out will be visiting campus on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month to help take students’ minds off the everyday stress of college life.
As his bright yellow vest indicates, Puck is not just any dog. He’s an official therapy dog, and achieving that title is, as Laurie explained, a little different for everyone. The first hurdle is to have a willing owner and a dog who shows interest in working with people. From there, the process depends on the organization with which the owner chooses to register. Laurie and Puck work through Keystone Pet Enhanced Therapy Services (KPETS), a group that sends therapy dogs and their owners to those in need in southern Pennsylvania and northern Maryland. The KPETS certification includes a series of evaluations for pet and owner, and two supervised visits where a pet can provide therapy at a location registered on the KPETS database. If the pet passes with flying colors, it is just a matter of paperwork before dog and owner can officially begin providing puppy love to those in need.
Puck has been a therapy dog since he was two; Laurie has been a handler for even longer. “I’ve always been involved in the dog world. I knew this was something I could do with my dog that I would enjoy, and if he was a dog that liked people, he would enjoy.” Laurie’s previous pet was also a therapy dog.
Comforting humans is not Puck’s only superpower. He is also a blood donor, giving every five weeks for dogs undergoing surgery. In addition to their KPETS certification, Laurie and Puck are also certified through HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response to provide therapy in crisis situations. Puck has been called to West Virginia in the aftermath of flooding, after a shooting, and to Fort Meade in response to a suicide and the sudden death of a soldier. “I’m a worrier,” says Laurie. “We go in, but I want to make sure it’s safe, for him and for me. But the comfort that he can bring is well worth the risks or the time.”
At this, I am struck again by a dog’s ability, simple and immensely powerful, to forgive the world for not being perfect. I have known dogs who have been beaten and kicked and cast away, and yet somehow still look upon people with trust. Puck and Laurie have gone to dark places in order to bring happiness and hope. It takes a lot of bravery to seek out negative or dangerous situations with the sole goal of taking the weight off others. We are lucky to have them here.
As we say our goodbyes, I inquire as to the origin of Puck’s name. Turns out, his whole litter was named after the cast of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What a perfect name for a dog as playful and goodhearted as he, whose therapeutic purpose seems to draw directly from the sprite’s famous closing monologue: “If you pardon, we will mend.”
—Kailani M. Clarke ’20