LOGAN, Utah — Patrick is truly living a dog’s life — the 7-year-old Doberman pinscher with the ink-black, soulful eyes is tenderly cared for in the home of Bob and Katie Elder of River Heights where he works as a service dog for Katie.

If that wasn’t enough, Patrick is fawned over each week when he visits Logan Regional Hospital as a therapy dog. His quiet, gentle nature brings joy and comfort not only the patients there, but also the staff.

Most recently, he was named Therapy Dog of the Year by Intermountain Therapy Animals, a Utah nonprofit with a mission to “enhance quality of life through the human-animal bond.”

While Dobermans are a German dog breed, his name hints of the Irish — although that isn’t where he got his name.

Katie said it is silly, but she admires the breed because they are so athletic and graceful, much like Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. When the Elders got him from a breeder in Montana, he was given the name Paws Here Always Dirty Dancing, but he keeps it simple and goes by Patrick or Pat.

Patrick reportedly nominated himself for the honor in a letter to the ITA board.

“I am getting close to retirement and I would love to be able to give my people one more big, special thing before I become a lazy, spoiled and pampered couch dog,” he wrote.

Patrick was first trained to work with Katie as a service dog, providing her with stability and retrieving things for her so she didn’t have to bend over and cause further injury to her back.

“He has this personality that is just so awesome, and I thought he might be wasting his talents because he was just such a natural,” she said.

Service dogs aren’t typically cross-trained, Katie said, but they trained Patrick for therapy work, and he excelled.

When he works for Katie, he wears a harness and vest, and when he does therapy work, he is on a longer lead with Bob in charge — all things that cue him to the job at hand.

When the Elders visit Logan Regional Hospital, they alternate their visits between the Transitional Care Unit and the Behavior Health Unit, after a detour to Karen Carter’s desk for apples.

“They are always so good at engaging with the patients . and he is always so calm,” said Carter, a therapeutic recreation specialist who organizes therapy opportunities for her the patients in the TCU.

On a recent Thursday, Patrick visited Con Schwartz, a Hyrum man who has been hospitalized after having back surgery. While he doesn’t profess to be an animal lover, he said the visit with Patrick and the Elders took his mind off of the pain he was in.

And in the hallway just outside of the TCU in the surgical unit, Rylee Parker met Patrick and just couldn’t get enough of him, so she asked if he could visit her room. Patrick was more than happy to do so because there was lots of petting and ear-stroking involved.

A few doors down, they visited Mike Bowcutt, a Tremonton man who is looking forward to possibly going home after a week-long stay in the THC with an illness.

He and Bob quickly found common ground in their military backgrounds, and he admired Patrick for his breeding.

“I enjoy dogs,” he said. “I think they are bred for a purpose, and it is very clear that Patrick has found his niche.”

Therapy jobs have sometimes been hard to obtain, but as people learn more about the special skills dogs have, that is changing.

Patrick is also a Reading Education Assistance Dog and spends his time with developmentally challenged elementary school students who read to him.

He is a perfect match for these students because he has the ability to listen attentively while they read to them, he does not judge or criticize them, and he lets them go at their own pace.

He has shared his skills with veterans at the George E. Wahlen Veterans Home in Ogden, where the veterans frequently hid sandwiches in their pockets for him, and with university students who are under stress while they prepare for exams.

Patrick is one of about 300 ITA therapy dogs, but he is the only one working at Logan Regional Hospital at this time.

His photo will be featured on the ITA Hall of Fame in its Salt Lake City office, and he just received his certificate in the mail, in an envelope addressed to Patrick Elder.

In his letter to the board, Patrick made it clear that the honor is not all his, because he has amazing parents.

“They have crushed barriers that other teams have not been able to approach,” he said. “I am a big Doberman and my breed is not typically one that people think of as a therapy dog.”


Information from: The Herald Journal, http://www.hjnews.com

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AMY MACAVINTA
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