An Excelsior Volunteer Shares her Story

November is “Giving Back” Month here at Excelsior. We’re featuring stories of giving to highlight the generosity of all those in the Excelsior family – from our girls to our volunteers. This week features a guest blog post by one of our community members who volunteers in our Canine Healers program – Annette Humphrey.

Consider Yourself Lucky
By: Annette Humphrey

Some folks are born lucky and others make their own luck.  Rancho Fiasco Lucky Longneck Rake (yes, that’s his full name!) was born lucky in 2003.  Complications at birth prompted a drive to the veterinary hospital.  On the car ride there, his large skull caused him to become stuck in the birth canal.  Left with no other options, his breeder pulled him out by the head — hence the name Longneck.  But – Longneck wasn’t quite out of danger. Rake - Annette's canine healers therapy dogHe was not yet breathing on his own, so mouth-to-snout CPR was administered until he was revived. That’s where the Lucky part of the name comes in.

Rake, as he’s affectionately known, has led a complete terrier life full of a variety of competitions and adventures. When we decided to retire him from the great dog sport Flyball, he needed a different kind of job. That’s when we happened upon an important calling at Excelsior Youth Center.

Two very good friends of mine suggested I have Rake tested to be a therapy dog.  He’s always been the most affectionate of our three dogs and my friends, who were involved with Excelsior Youth Center’s Canine Healers program, thought he’d be a great fit.  I liked the idea of Rake being a therapy dog.  After his initial tests, which Rake passed with flying colors, we volunteered for a few months in nursing homes and hospitals. It wasn’t until I decided to try EYC, however, that we found our purpose.

To be honest, our initial visit was a bit much for me.  Rake was so excited to be there it was obnoxious.  It took a few weeks, but Rake settled into his new job nicely.  Now, he knows his responsibilities in group therapy.  Rake is not usually a lap dog, but he often curls up in the girls’ laps or just nudges them with his nose to show he’s interested.

I, too, have found each of our times as Excelsior to be an inspiring experience.  Never have I had such a feeling of community and appreciation for my volunteer time.  In turn, the time I share with my dog and the girls at Excelsior is tremendously rewarding.  Girls who are quiet and shy at first become talkative and expressive as the sessions progress.  Rake helps build trust and safety within the group and I find it incredibly worthwhile.

Canine Healers has become a great fit for us.  We’ve been involved now for almost three years, despite the fact that it was not an easy initial volunteer quote - giving backcommitment given the distance between our home and Excelsior. My husband often drops Rake off at my mom’s house before 6 A.M.  My mom keeps Rake for the day until I pick him up after work and drive to Aurora. It’s a family affair to be sure, but well worth the effort.

I am fortunate to have made my own luck volunteering at Excelsior Youth Center.  Each time I go, I’ve so impressed at the strength and resilience of the girls and am thankful to play a part in their growth. My hope is that everyone will pursue opportunities to give back and make a difference. You may just find that you’re getting more in return.