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They Call Him Dr. Whippet
The story of Holly Wells and her rescue dog

He only survived because of his eyes. They could convince a homeless man to share a sandwich. He was roaming in Prospect Park, Brooklyn in October of 1988. When the Young Man found him there, this adult whippet weighed only 15 pounds.

Diligent investigation took days but the Young Man was finally able to locate the whippet's owners. He set off across Manhattan, expecting to witness a joyful reunion. The woman who answered the door said, "We don’t want that dog." She explained that this whippet had been a gag gift, repeatedly passed as a joke between four different families, none of which wanted him, during the two short years of his life.

Four families’ garbage was one woman’s treasure. This dog entered Holly Wells' life in February 1989, just in time to guide her through a major personal crisis. During the years that followed, he was there in times of happiness and sadness, helping her weather difficult times, offering unconditional love, and helping to relieve the sadness and the pain of loss. It's fair to say that they rescued each other.

She named him "Mr. Whippet." As a novice dog owner, with little or no idea how to manage his presence in her life, she decided to take him to work with her and hoped for the best. Holly is the Counseling Coordinator in the Youth Services Agency a city in northeastern Connecticut. Right from the start, Mr. Whippet’s gentle presence at the facility brought a change to the facility's waiting room. Shy kids would step forward to pat him. Sullen children would smile. Hostile kids began to soften. He made a difference in so many children’s' lives, but there was one, in particular, whose story was most poignant.

Jenny was a sad, withdrawn five-year-old who couldn't meet anyone's eyes. Engaging her in a talking relationship with her therapist proved to be impossible. The day she discovered Mr. Whippet in Holly's office, she snuggled right down next to him for the hour that her Mom spent with the therapist. Over ensuing weeks and months, this silent bond grew, until one day Jenny was heard talking quietly to the gentle dog. She was whispering, so the content of their conversation was impossible to hear, but soon thereafter she began to ask Holly questions about the dog, his looks and his life. One day, she asked Mr. Whippet to come with her, and he gladly trotted off behind her, down the hall to her therapist’s office. With Mr. Whippet beside her every week, Jenny gradually became strong enough to engage in play therapy and to talk with her therapist about the incomprehensible sexual abuse that she had suffered. Mr. Whippet was the key that released her from a prison of silence and allowed her healing to begin.

Over the years, Mr. Whippet has grayed. He moves much more slowly these days. He walks with a wobble and is now missing an eye. The end of his tail has been gone for years. Now, at 17-years-old, he prefers blankets and napping to chasing squirrels and taunting soccer teams with games of "Who-can-touch-the-whippet?"

Yes, this gentle dog has had many adventures in his life. He's helped so many children over the past 15 years that friends fondly call him "Dr. Whippet". He still goes to work with Holly because she knows their time together can't last forever. She can't bear to be the thought of being separated from him.

Footsteps pattered down the hallway toward her office last night, while Holly was doing the detested, but requisite, paperwork for her job. Ten-year-old JJ stood in the doorway. He said, "I was hoping you were here!" Holly knew that it wasn't really she that he was hoping to see. She invited him in and he plopped himself down beside old Mr. Whippet's bed. While his parents were in with the family’s therapist, discussing JJ’s learning disabilities and his disruptive, sometimes aggressive behavior, the "doctor" was helping his young patient. JJ sat on the office floor, gently patting Mr. Whippet’s old, one-eyed head, explaining to Holly the importance of gentleness and friendship.

There is little time left in his life and so many children in the world who need to share it. But, no matter how long or short his remaining time may be, Mr. Whippet will make every moment count. You may be sure of it.

In his 15 years of service to the youth of Connecticut, Mr. Whippet has quietly helped uncounted youngsters handle emotional and behavioral issues in their lives. His contribution to the lives of these children has made a difference in the quality of their lives, and hopefully will inspire them to be better adults, parents and citizens than they might otherwise have been without him.

I would like to nominate Mr. Whippet for this year's Willow Award, which commemorates Linda Solano's exceptional Therapy Dog, Willow, and her work. I believe that Mr. Whippet truly exemplifies the spirit of this award given both the success of his work and his career longevity. As such, he has proven himself to be a credit not only to his owner and the community, but most important of all, to the Whippet breed.

Respectfully submitted,
Donna R Miner
February 26, 2004

Author's note: Mr. Whippet lived just long enough to attend the 2004 AWC National in NC, where he was awarded the 1st Annual Willow Award for service as a Therapy Dog.

ADDENDUM by Patience Renzulli and the Warburton Whippets:

The Willow Award 2004

I couldn't imagine anything good could come of Willow's death. She was too young, only a couple of months shy of her ninth birthday. She was the embodiment of spirit and spunk. She was Linda's world. She meant so much to so many people who needed her. She had the best veterinary care anywhere. Why?

Of course we'll never know why. But, when a soul as treasured as Willow passes, something good does indeed come. And so the American Whippet Club's annual Willow Award was born.

We put out a call that we wanted to honor Whippets who were quietly doing therapy work with their humans. Now, no one has ever accused me of being overly organized and God knows I tend to over schedule myself just a tad, so the call went out a little late, OK really late, and if I had done it last November… Even so, the response was terrific. Way more than we anticipated. Linda and I had planned to be the "judges" but as we received the entries we quickly realized this would not be possible. Linda had a brilliant idea and asked someone else to choose the recipient for us.

And that's how Holly Parker, Director, Animal Assisted Therapy, National Institutes of Health - yes, the NIH - became the "judge". (I'm trying to avoid the competitive terms here. Every Willow Award Nominee is already a winner. I neglected to make that most important point at the awards banquet.) The nominations came by e-mail to me, or snail mail to Linda, and we would send them on to Holly Parker. Every story was moving, amazing, encouraging, heart wrenching. Whippets are such very good therapy dogs. I was so glad we had chosen an independent judge; there was no way I could make the choice.

Then a new nomination showed up in my inbox. I wanted to call Linda and say, "I've changed my mind. Holly can't be the judge anymore. I want to be the judge. I've found our Willow Award recipient." It was the story of Mr. Whippet. A seventeen-year-old rescue Whippet, nominated by Donna Rotman Miner, owned by Holly Wells. A dog who started out his life as somebody's bad joke. Passed around between four couples in Brooklyn for two years as a gag gift. Like a plastic yard flamingo, or a tacky lamp, until he was finally abandoned as so much tag sale trash. He weighed fifteen pounds, an adult male Whippet, when he came into Holly Wells' life.

I wanted Mr. Whippet to be the First Annual Willow Award recipient.

The other stories came. And they were wonderful, touching, meaningful. Scores of miracles were happening quietly all over the country, surrounding these special Whippets.

It was time to be hearing from Holly Parker. (Too many Holly's here: Holly Parker, the Director of Animal Assisted Therapy at NIH; Holly Wells is the owner of Mr. Whippet.) I called Linda. "Any word from Holly yet?" "She's having a hard time." I couldn't blame her, and neither will you, when you read the rest of the nominations. It was getting closer and closer to the National. Engraving the base of the statue was out. "Linda, any word?"

Finally Linda called me. She read me the letter that Holly Parker had sent:

Linda and Patience,
This was a very difficult decision! I have struggled with the choice but feel in the end that "Mr. Whippet" should be the first to receive the Willow Award. I know that he is probably the least "decorated" of the group. He doesn't have titles or certificates to his name. His owner hasn't been active in the Delta Society or in the show ring. He started his life unloved and unwanted. He fell into therapy work because his human wanted him with her during the day. In spite of all of those things, Mr. Whippet has spent the past fifteen years providing therapy to terribly needy children. I'm sure his service has been quiet and steadfast. Something about Mr. Whippet and his story touched me on the same level that Willow touched me. He found his place to serve on his terms. Willow always found her special place where she let us know she could do the most good. I loved reading each of these [nominations]. There were so few people doing this work in 1989 when we started the program at NIH. I am amazed and thrilled to know that so many wonderful dogs and humans are providing therapy across the country. I will be forever humbled that I had the opportunity to share Willow with our patients at NIH.
Fondly,
Holly

The 2004 Annual AWC Willow Award: Mr. Whippet, owner Holly Wells

Honorable Mention: Mimi, Ch. Allerei's Please Choose Me, owner Jean Good

Honorable Mention: Maya, owner Jo Dee Bucki

Mimi and Maya received leather therapy leads, donated by Willow's friend Marlene Trusdale. Mr. Whippet received a porcelain figurine of a white whippet, and a sterling silver collar tag. On one side it reads, " AWC Willow Award 2004". On the other side, "Therapy Dog, Please Touch". I would like to thank Jim and Sue Farrell, David and Gina Samuelson, and Bobbie Lutz for their generous, unsolicited donations to the Willow Award fund.

Congratulations and thank you to each and every Whippet who is doing this wonderful work.

Patience C. Renzulli

Mr. Whippet passed away on Tuesday, April 27, 2004. Deepest sympathies to Holly Wells and all those who loved him. And a personal thank you for sharing him with us.


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