Therapy dog's death pains owners, clients


TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — For eight years, Windy, a certified therapy dog, took good care of her "clients," giving them love, making them laugh, easing their pain and calming their fears.

Her soft, black fur and gentle demeanor won the hearts of those she visited at hospitals, nursing homes and mental health care facilities throughout Terre Haute.

Today, many are grieving at the news that Windy, diagnosed with cancer seven weeks ago, died on Saturday.

"She left paw prints on all of our hearts," said Amy Jo Conley, a recreational therapist at Harsha Behavioral Center, one of the many places Windy visited with her owner, Barbara Stipp.

Stipp and her husband, Steve, are still coping with their loss — as is their other dog, Truman, also a certified therapy dog. On their dining room table, the Stipps have photos and articles chronicling the love Windy gave, and the love she received.

"People were crazy about her," Barbara Stipp told the Tribune-Star ( ).

Windy first came into their lives 10 years ago, a 7-month-old abandoned dog, a golden retriever mix.

"Windy just came to our house," Stipp said. The couple, who already had two dogs, had to leave for two hours and hoped the dog would be able to find its way home.

But when they returned and started to close the garage doors, Windy — named for her speed because she would run like the wind — zipped inside. "She acted like she had always lived here. I really think God sent her here for a special purpose," Stipp said.

The couple put an ad in the paper, but no one claimed her. "Windy was ours," Stipp said.

A veterinarian encouraged Stipp to do pet therapy with Windy because of the dog's gentle, friendly disposition. "It was something I had always wanted to do," she said.

Windy "was wonderful. She loved to be petted. . She was just a sweet, sweet animal," Stipp said. Occasionally Windy would get in trouble for putting her paws on people, but the people "enjoyed that," she said.

Everybody called Windy the "leaner. She would lean up against people to be loved," Stipp said. If someone petted her and quit, Windy would put her nose under the person's arm and beg for more.

It's hard for Stipp to talk about her beloved pet; the end came much too quickly. Windy got sick at one of the facilities she goes to on a regular basis, which led to a trip to the vet and a tragic diagnosis.

The Stipps had her for just another 6 1/2 more weeks, during which time Windy was no longer able to provide therapy to others. Instead, others, such as Conley, who had become attached to Windy, came to visit her.

"She wasn't just our dog, but everybody's, in a way," Stipp said.

Lisa Burch, recreation therapist at Hamilton Center, said Windy was part of the Hamilton Center community who visited clients at the inpatient unit. "She was absolutely the most patient, calm and obedient dog," Burch said.

Upon Stipp's command, Windy would go from patient to patient and just wait for them to pet her.

"She had an important job," Burch said. Some of the Hamilton Center clients don't respond well to other humans and are fearful, for a lot of different reasons. They would stay to themselves.

But they did respond to Windy when they touched her soft fur. She helped calm and comfort them.

When Stipp and Windy came for pet therapy, they typically came with Alice Adams, who also did pet therapy with her dog, Lilly, a smaller Chinese crested. Together, the two dogs did tricks. In one, Windy would lie down and Lilly would jump over her, back and forth.

"It's so hard to imagine we won't have Windy back here. It's a great loss," Burch said.

Windy had other tricks up her sleeve; Stipp would put a treat on her nose, and she would flip it and catch it. Also, Windy could roll over both ways with the greatest of ease.

When Stipp would tell Windy to "speak" during pet therapy, the dog would never bark loudly. "She would use her 'hospital voice'," making a sound that was more like a sneeze, Stipp said.

Conley said Windy had worked at Harsha for several years, "visiting each unit of our hospital, helping to relax, inspire and improve the interactions and moods of our patients."

Windy had an impact on staff and patients alike. Employees would eagerly greet her at the lobby, and the dog would make frequent stops at offices on her way to see patients.

Windy gave adolescents a sense of worth, calmed homesick children and provided "a gentle shoulder to cry on for our reminiscing seniors," Conley said.

"I was lucky enough to have visited Windy, in her home, prior to her passing. I hope she knew how much I adored her. Our hearts are broken," Conley said.

Harsha Behavioral Center will honor Windy by dedicating a plaque in her memory within the hospital.

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