By J.D. Moor
He’s 10 years old and he works like a dog.
Actually, Ranger is a dog, remarkable in certain ways.
He’s a tri-color Llewellin English setter with a heartwarming disposition. He’s also a certified therapy dog with a resume that continues to expand.
He has consoled victims of disaster through HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response (AACR), the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the American Red Cross. He works as a Happy Tails comfort dog, and he’s been an inspiration to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
All on a volunteer basis.
“He lets me know when it’s time to do more work,” said his Sandy Springs human companion and handler, Dave Frew. “He’ll go to the closet, fetch his working bag and take it to the door.”
Frew lost his wife, Stephanie, to cancer four years ago, but her spirit lives on in Ranger. Stephanie first experienced the wonders of working dogs as she underwent treatment. She wanted to give back. She got Ranger, they got certified training together, and they provided comfort to others while she struggled with her own health.
“Stephanie had one final wish. She asked me to pledge that I would get certified to handle Ranger and share his love with others, not just in chemotherapy clinics, but also in home hospices, hospitals, funeral homes, and rehabilitation and assisted-living facilities,” Frew said.
Nancy Sisson, vice president of Happy Tails, recalls when Dave and Ranger were evaluated. “Ranger had already passed the test with Stephanie, but had to pass again with Dave. They did beautifully. I don’t think there was a dry eye among us. We knew what that day meant to Dave … and to Ranger.”
And so a new incarnation of the ‘Frew Crew’ began.
“We put smiles on the faces of total strangers. It’s been a calling, like carrying on her ministry,” Frew said.
One recent morning, Dave and Ranger teamed up to visit residents at the Canterbury Court seniors complex in Buckhead.
“Ready to go to work?” Frew asked.
Ranger perked up, wagged his tail, champing at the bit.
Ranger mingled with a group of ladies, giving each some one-on-one attention and showing off his obedient restraint, awaiting the “OK” command before eating a treat Dave set on his paw. Then Ranger and Dave saw some folks in their rooms.
Jackie Lynn was just finishing her breakfast in bed. Ranger doted on her, a bit distracted perhaps. “He doesn’t love me, he loves my eggs,” Lynn said jokingly. As the duo left, she hollered: “You come back soon. Woof-Woof!”
Mary Lynn Morgan recognized how therapeutic Ranger‘s drop-in was to her. As a former dentist, she often had a dog sit beside her child patients during appointments, just to help relax them.
“You’re so beautiful,” she said to Ranger. “I appreciate it.”
Upon leaving the facility, the two Frews encountered Marilynne McLaughlin, who used to have Boston terriers. As she petted Ranger softly, she smiled from ear to ear and told him, “You’re a handsome fellow. You’ve made my day.”
The Frew team’s latest initiative has forged a partnership between PetSmart and the Shepherd Center in Buckhead to show wounded veterans how service dogs can help their recovery.
Shepherd’s program has treated David Peacock for post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain and shoulder injuries incurred during his service as a U.S. Air Force flight medic in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I still have a little way to go, but I am moving in the right direction with my continued care,” Peacock said.
When Peacock brought his dog, Diamond, for training as a service dog, he hoped it would help with his balance and cognitive issues. He met Frew and Ranger at the session, where Frew talked about dog training. “I think that Ranger and his human, Dave, are a great team, and I hope they continue to help others,” he said.
One of Frew’s favorite stories regards another veteran – a man he and Ranger met at an Alzheimer’s facility.
“I noticed him in a corner wearing a WWII veteran’s hat, and he was sobbing. Ranger and I approached him. There was something about the way he touched Ranger, so I asked him if, by any chance, he had been a war dog handler,” Frew said.
The veteran could not remember his own name, but the memories flooded back to him when he saw Ranger. He shared the harrowing details of his war dog, Duke, and how a Nazi sniper had them pinned down behind very limited cover. Duke was exposed and the sniper shot him.
“By the time he finished telling the story, we were both crying,” Frew said.
Frew dreads the inevitable loss of his own dog, but he has already thought about extending Stephanie’s legacy when that time comes.
“As Ranger ages, I will cut back his workload. I will start training another dog, and Ranger will help train him,” he said. Ranger’s successor will be another English setter, but he will have a very tough act to follow.
For more information, visit: www.hopeaacr.org or www.happytailspets.org.