THERAPY DOG at the “Beck” and Call of Children and Adults Alike
For more than 18 years, Kathi Jo Zornes of Rarden, Ohio, has been breeding and training dogs of the highest pedigree for competition and therapy dog certification. Little did she know that it would be a little mixed breed puppy that would end up her canine soul mate, stealing her heart and the hearts of kids and adults across Scioto County.
The puppy, now five years old, is named Beck. The beagle/Llewellin (English) setter mix is a certified therapy dog, a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in places such as hospitals and nursing homes, as well as to people with learning difficulties. Born December 24, 2009, Zornes rescued him when he was five weeks and two days old.
“It was off the wall,” Zornes said. “I had no expectations.”
In fact, many people who knew Zornes for her serious competition with her German shepherds were wondering why she would adopt a mixed breed. “They thought I’d lost my mind,” she recalled. “But I just had a little feeling deep down that this was the right path to take.”
That feeling was confirmed three months later when Zornes lost her mother to cancer. Beck helped Zornes and her family deal with their grief. “He was doing therapy before he was even certified,” she said. “It was divine providence.”
After seeing what Beck was able to do with her own family, Zornes decided to train him to be a therapy dog, but it wasn’t easy. “He was a whole new ball game to train,” she said. “He taught me a lot about respect for trying with different breeds.”
In July 2011, at the age of 19 months, Beck became a registered therapy dog. He visits nursing homes, hospitals and rehabilitation facilities not only in Scioto County, but also Jackson, Highland, Ross, Lawrence, Pike and Hamilton counties in Ohio as well. Beck also visits elementary schools and libraries to participate in “tail wagging tutoring.” The tutoring program allows kids with reading disabilities and those who just need to hone their reading skills to read to dogs, making it much less intimidating than to read to an adult. Beck was one of two dogs that spearheaded the program in Portsmouth.
Beck also learned tricks to entertain the kids, including shaking hands, speaking, high-five and digging on command. He often does one or a combination of the tricks as a reward for kids who read to him. Beck also “reads back” to the kids – quietly barking, baying and mumbling as Zornes runs her fingers along the lines of the book.
“Usually a therapy dog is good in one area or another – either visiting the nursing homes and hospitals or the reading program,” Zornes said. “Beck does both equally great. He just has a winning disposition and he is really great around people. He has the ability to light up the room everywhere he goes.”
Though Beck has slowed down some due to health issues, he still participates in as many community events as he can. His latest project is working with the Autism Project of Southern Ohio.
“This is a strictly volunteer thing and it’s been a heck of a ride,” Zornes said. “We’re community minded. We love to help people. I have a love for people and for dogs, and I can see the good that can be done. Why not help other people and get involved?”
Beck now has 14 titles to his name, eight from the American Kennel Club, three from Therapy Dogs International and three through Do More With Your Dog! fortrick dogs. In November 2014, Beck became the first AKC Canine Partners registered dog in the state of Ohio to earn the AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD) title for making at least 400 therapy dog visits.
“Before I knew it, this mixed breed rescue of mine had more titles than most really nice pure bred dogs in the world,” Zornes said. “He is the mixed breed dog’s champion. It just shows that you don’t have to be high pedigree. Look at what he can do. The goofy ham that he is.”
At a recent event, Ohio State Representative Dr. Terry Johnson called Beck “the most famous dog in Scioto County,” a gesture that truly touched Zornes. “I don’t think we do Beck justice,” Zornes said. “I think he’s extraordinary. He’s one of a kind.”
Through all of Beck’s adventures, he and Zornes have forged a closer relationship than she has ever experienced with any other dog.
“I have a collar I bought a few years back for Beck that I never used for him, but rather just kept it. It says, ‘Who Rescued Who?’” Zornes said. “Some would say we rescued him, but I’d say he rescued me.”
To have Beck visit your school or community group (i.e., 4-H groups, Girl/BoyScouts), call Kathi Jo Zornes at (740) 372-2176 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Beck’s visits are a community service and there is no fee.