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Furry Favorite Hanging Up His Harness

By Maureen Schlangen

Every finals week since the spring of 2013, community counseling graduate Tina Donovan ’08 has brought her therapy dog Baxter, a mild-mannered flat-coated retriever, to Roesch Library. As stressed-out students stroke his fur, look into his graying face and let him curl up and rest against them, his comfortable calmness seems to lift away their weariness and anxiety.

On Dec. 11, after an afternoon session with students in the Knowledge Hub, Baxter will retire at age 13 from a seven-year career in which he has comforted legions of people who are sick, stressed, elderly, grieving or afraid.

Donovan shares Baxter’s story:


"My mother adopted Baxter from the Humane Society in the spring of 2010," Donovan says. "It was a 'senior-to-senior adoption' — they believed he was 6 years old at that time. As she bent over to pick up something, he darted, and she fell and broke her finger. She didn’t want to take any chances, so she was going to return him or offer him to us. We already had a dog, but he was too good to not adopt."


"Our friend had just adopted a puppy, so we arranged a visit to the dog park so they could meet," Donovan says. "Baxter didn't pay any attention to the puppy, but anytime a new person came into the park, Baxter walked up and greeted them, and people at the park quipped that he was like the Walmart greeter. One person suggested that I train him as a pet therapy dog. On the spot, we got on our phones and discovered the Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association."


"We took 10 weeks of training, which included going out into the community weekly to stores to get him acclimated to various environments he might encounter," Donovan says. "The test at the end included several competencies: having books dropped on the floor and not being startled; being comfortable with people with wheelchairs and crutches; and navigating his way on a path where he had to ignore all the treats, cats and dogs along the way. He had to pass a test of being 'rushed' — completely surrounded with people touching him all over. He also had to be observed in actual pet therapy situations at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Good Samaritan Hospital."


"We had suspected that he had been abused before he came to the Humane Society, but I didn't know to what extent until the first time we had an X-ray," Donovan says. "The veterinarian explained that spots on the X-rays were the result of being shot by a BB gun, a pellet gun and a .22-caliber rifle. So I like to say that both literally and figuratively, his unflappable, sweet temperament is 'bulletproof.'"


Roesch isn’t Baxter's only library. Through his career, children have read to him at libraries in Dayton, Trotwood, Miamisburg and Kettering.

"He particularly enjoys the part where a child turns the book around to show him the pictures," Donovan says.

He’s also served at various elementary schools in the region; Bethany Lutheran Village retirement community; Elmcroft assisted living community; Hospice of Dayton; the Oesterlen Services for Youth intensive residential unit in Springfield; the Xenia women's shelter; the UD School of Law; and MFest, a mental health awareness event at UD. He also attends the Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association’s annual Howl Walk.


"He's trained me to take him on a walk when I get home from work, and he’s trained his 'father' to give him four treats every night before bed," Donovan says. "If his dad miscounts, Baxter will stand in front of him and stare until he gets his fourth one. He also will accompany us visiting family in Ohio and Iowa, and he loves traveling to Cowan Lake, Hocking Hills and Pike Lake state parks in Ohio and Backbone State Park in Iowa."


Stop by and offer Baxter a handshake or a happy-retirement scratch behind the ears from 4 to 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11, in the Knowledge Hub on the first floor of Roesch Library.

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