Dogs bring love to residents of all ages


Last updated 6/6/2017 at Noon

The special needs class at Potter Jr. High and Love on a Leash volunteers gather together for a party on May 22 to mark the end of the school year, from left, back row, Isaac Jeffers, Jamie Inesta, Gabriel Rudisell, teacher Pauline Williams, Yanina MacDermot, Joshua Hayek, Nathaniel Evans, Beatriz Marquez, Jack Ramos, Sandra Jimenez; middle row, Diana Vasquez, Ashley Martinez, Madeline Ramirez, Caida Pancher; front row, Mary Anne Brunton with Ruffles, Pam Burcham with Lucy, Charlene Fedorchak with Trixie, Dottie Jensen with Bailey, Christine Rinaldi with Sera, and Debbie Wilson with Gracie and Phoebe. Conner Kuhn photos

While many Fallbrook residents perform community service every week, at least six of them are accompanied by four-legged volunteers.

Local dogs and their owners participating in the Love on a Leash program have been taking turns, two teams at a time, visiting students in the special needs class at Potter Junior High every Monday.

While Love on a Leash’s canine-human teams have been active in Fallbrook and Bonsall for at least 10 years, their visits to Potter started in 2015. The classroom is crowded with children who have a variety of developmental challenges, so the dogs and their owners meet with a few students at a time outside.

Group organizer Mary Anne Brunton said, “Meeting outside has worked extremely well. When they (the students) come outside, it is a diversion for some, a happy diversion, a joy for sure. It is teaching them a love of animals and a care of animals.”

Volunteer Debbie Wilson added, “They learn how to treat animals, how to approach a dog. One girl was terrified <at first>; she’s made huge progress. She will touch a dog now and walked one of the dogs.”

The dogs and their human partners take turns visiting Fallbrook Library for the Paws to Read program every Thursday at 4 p.m. when children can read to the dogs. The teams also make regular visits to Regency Fallbrook’s memory care unit as well as to Fallbrook Skilled Nursing, and sometimes Silvergate Retirement Residence, to brighten the day for residents who don't get any other visitors.

Gabriel Rudisell and Pam Burcham with pet Lucy.

In the last year, the Fallbrook group has lost three dogs for various reasons so it is looking for more people with friendly, well-behaved dogs to join them. If there were more teams, the group could add more schools to its schedule and/or give the volunteers time off.

While there is a stringent evaluation, Brunton has never known a dog to fail it. She said that if dogs have basic obedience skills, they do not have to be therapy trained.

“If they are good-natured with people and with other dogs, and not a barker, any friendly dog can be trained (to do the visits),” said Brunton.

Local dog trainer Rick Williams can do the evaluation for anyone interested. He can be contacted at (760) 728-1292, or [email protected]. Dog owners who would like more information about joining Love on a Leash can call Brunton at (760) 723-0349.


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