Lucy’s ears prick up, her tail wags slightly and she knows it’s time to work…an eager smile lights her slender face. There are little girls to walk her around and around and around — motion with which she’s very familiar — and oh, so many people to meet.
“She’s such a social butterfly. She loves meeting people,” said her owner and handler, Rochester resident Marcia Fritzmeier. She introduced Olmsted Medical Center (OMC) Canine Companion Lucy to Zayda Priebe, Megan Drogemuller and Rachel Johnson, young ladies who came to a recent health fair to meet the long, lanky canine whose job as a therapy dog is to meet, greet and visit with people in all settings to improve their outlook and lift their spirits.
Wherever she goes, Lucy makes fast friends, like Zayda, Megan and Rachel, who spent the entire morning walking the retired racetrack runner around the displays at the annual Help Our Neighbors (HON) and Olmsted Medical Center (OMC) health fair, held in Chatfield’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church. They stopped only to let other people give the greyhound a scratch behind her ears or look into her brown eyes. She bows for treats, leaning up against anyone who might be willing to give her a moment.
Fritzmeier explained Lucy’s history and how she came to be a Canine Companion who has her own calling card. It reads “With my soulful, gentle eyes and a joyous heart, I share my love with the patients who need me the most…my compassion knows no boundaries and everyone I meet is my new best friend.”
Fritzmeier said, “She came off the racetrack in Dubuque, Iowa, about a year and a half ago when she was 18 months old. When greyhounds are not financially productive on the track, many are put into adoption programs. I have had greyhounds for 25 years, and they grow on you. When I first met her, I saw her gentleness.”
As a volunteer for Northern Lights Greyhound Adoption, Fritzmeier was at the booth at the state fair when she first met Lucy. “My last greyhound had just passed away and I went up to the state fair. They gave me Lucy to hold. She was so gentle. I thought, ‘This girl might have what it takes,’ so I adopted her, took her to obedience school, and she passed with flying colors.”
The time and love Fritzmeier invested in Lucy was and is being paid back tenfold.
“We go to Olmsted Medical Center Hospital, the Federal Medical Center’s psych unit, humane education programs, we go to schools, hospitals, meet people recovering from brain injuries and stroke, go to nursing homes, we also do programs on therapy dogs and their value,” Fritzmeier said. “So, she’s pretty busy.”
Of course, in her free time, Lucy loves to run. The tricky part is finding enough squirrel- and rabbit-free room for her to run.
Fritzmeier noted that a loose Lucy is a gone Lucy, so it’s all on-leash or in a fenced yard. But the exchange between dog and owner is one of thankfulness and understanding that this world can be made better, one person and dog at a time. Fritzmeier promised to take care of Lucy and Lucy returns the promise by being ready to lay her head in laps and just listen to anyone who has something to say.
Lucy isn’t Fritzmeier’s first therapy or service dog. In fact, she’s been handling and evaluating potential service and therapy dogs for nearly four decades, seeing in mere pups or rescued friends the possibilities that could be. She realizes how the four-pawed beings can help patients whose recovery or long-term existence is in need of brightening.
“I started working with my first dog in about 1976, an Australian shepherd that someone shot and left laying in the ditch,” Fritzmeier recalled. “That one became one of the most wonderful therapy dogs, kind of set the stage for the others. I’ve been a member of Therapy Dogs International since the late 1970s, and it’s taken me and my dogs here, there and everywhere.”
The best therapy dogs are sometimes the most surprising candidates, Fritzmeier stated. “When I was evaluating dogs, I tested one of Michael Vick’s pit bulls. The family that adopted him did an awesome job and he became a wonderful therapy dog. Dogs are pretty amazing.”
Fritzmeier has three other dogs at home, all of them with stories of their own to tell, but only one of those has the qualities that make him suitable to visit patients.
“At home, I have Annie, who’s an Australian shepherd who was thrown out of a moving car on Highway 52 and abandoned; Reba, an Irish setter that I purchased from a breeder who did not take very good care of her; and Jack, my min-pin who worked for 12 years at the Mayo Clinic as a trained service dog,” Fritzmeier said. “Jack was actually employed at the Mayo Clinic. He was one of the service dogs trained to work with patients there in recovery. He’s Lucy’s best friend. I’ve been blessed with some absolutely wonderful dogs. We have a good program at OMC, and we’re looking for more volunteers.”
Fritzmeier feels privileged to have adopted those dogs and put Jack and Lucy to work because she meets so very many people who “have the same heart for dogs as I do.” She also connects with people who understand that a dog isn’t just an animal to tie outside and ignore, but a friend, a creature willing to share its unconditional love with humans who just might need a paw up on life.
She concluded, “Lucy’s a good girl.”
For more information on the OMC Canine Companion program, call (507) 292-7210.