Abandoned as puppy, therapy dog proves what Chihuahuas are made of

In 2014, a litter of Chihuahua puppies – so young their umbilical cords were still attached – were discovered abandoned in a dumpster in downtown Rockford. One of those puppies is now a star for the OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center Animal-Assisted Therapy team, helping countless people most in need of a smile.

Jennifer and William Walker, of Roscoe, were owners of two Chihuahuas adopted from shelters when they saw a news story about the abandoned litter found in the dumpster. They instantly fell in love with one of the puppies, Ivy, and decided they wanted to add to their little pack. In September they were first in line at the shelter on the first day the puppies from the litter were available for adoption, and the couple took home 2-month-old Ivy.

Like the diligent owners they are, the Walkers took Ivy to obedience classes. The trainer, who happened to be one of the therapy dog handlers at OSF Saint Anthony, told the Walkers that Ivy would be a good therapy dog. Ivy began working as a therapy dog near the end of 2015 and has been at it ever since.

“She’s easygoing, doesn’t jump at her leash, loves meeting people, craves the attention and she’s not reactive to other dogs,” Jennifer said. “She has the perfect temperament and personality to be a therapy dog. Plus, she only weighs 10 pounds so she can get up on patients’ beds and curl up next to them.”

The benefits of a good dog

The animal-assisted therapy program is designed to bring comfort to patients with the help of well-trained pets. Interacting with a good dog, it turns out, has a positive psychological effect on people. The dogs who visit OSF Saint Anthony can help reduce patients’ stress, anxiety, pain and blood pressure, while helping increase patient social interaction and communication.

For the dogs, they love to please and they love the attention, so it’s a win-win for them and the patients.

Theresa Geraci, BSN, RN, the dog coordinator for the OSF Saint Anthony animal-assisted therapy program, said there is no doubt that Ivy’s visits are good for the health of the patients, who are also touched by Ivy’s story of survival.

“Ivy is a natural therapy dog,” Theresa said. “People don’t expect a Chihuahua to be as bold and personable as Ivy. Patients are surprised to learn such a sweet doggie was thrown away like trash.”

Jennifer usually makes it out to OSF Saint Anthony four to six times a month. She either takes Ivy or Daisy, one of their other Chihuahuas. Both dogs love therapy detail so much they begin trying to one-up each other for attention when they anticipate Jennifer is getting ready for another hospital trip.

‘It’s so rewarding’

While cuddling with patients is always a go-to move for Ivy and Daisy, they have added tricks to take their performance up a notch. They jump through Jennifer’s arms like a hoop, roll over, give high fives and more.

“Everybody just eats it up. It’s comforting to have that little dog rest against you,” Jennifer said. “The dogs love the attention, getting tummy rubs and getting petted. It’s a tough job but somebody has to do it.

“It’s so rewarding,” she added. “It’s so nice to be able to share the dog. We get so much out of it.”

Jennifer believes Chihuahuas get a bad rap as yippy, snippy and temperamental. Ivy not only serves as an ambassador for her breed by disproving the stereotype, she also serves as an ambassador for rescue dogs.

“Give shelter dogs a chance,” Jennifer said. “Ivy was a shelter dog. She was thrown away. For some reason somebody didn’t think she was worth having around. Ivy and Daisy are both gems. You never know what you’re going to find at a shelter.”

About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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