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CROW rehab dog Katie

The unofficial greeter of the gift shop at CROW, Katie, a certified therapy dog.

One of the places on Sanibel where islanders might expect to see a wild critter rehabilitating from an injury may run into a more familiar domesticated animal greeting them at the door. At the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife’s Visitor Education Center, the friendly staff of the gift shop has recently been joined by Katie, an 11-year-old golden-doodle, a certified therapy dog.

Katie’s owner, Jay Solomon of Fort Myers, has been working at CROW for the past few years. She began bringing Katie to work with her in part because of the canine’s gentle demeanor and instant connection with others, both human and fellow animals.

“She’s just a riot with all the animals here at CROW… she really likes Shelby the gopher tortoise and Sneezy the opossum. Lola (an American kestrel who also serves as an animal ambassador) flaps her wings too much… Katie doesn’t like that,” said Solomon. “She’s extremely gentle with everyone, which is incredible with everything she’s been through.”

Solomon’s journey with Katie began when she purchased the pooch online from a dog breeder in Missouri for $1,000. When Solomon went to pick up the 4-year-old golden-doodle at the airport, she was horrified by what she saw.

“She was almost dead… she only weighed 40 pounds and was full of parasites,” Solomon recalled. “She had been kept in a crate her entire life and she couldn’t even walk. And when the vet looked at her, he advised me to put her down.”

But Solomon, who for years trained show dogs in the St. Louis area – having raised a number of grand champion bearded collies and boxers – took it upon herself to nurse the dog back to health. She hand-fed the timid canine at first, then taught her how to walk. Despite getting stronger every day, Katie still suffered from shyness.

Then, Solomon got an idea of how she might perk Katie up. “I thought that she needed a puppy, because she had never had an opportunity to keep any of her own,” explained Solomon, who purchased a young golden-doodle from a reputable breeder in Texas. “As soon as I showed her that puppy, she just came to life.”

Katie and Ripley – whom she adopted as her own – soon became inseparable. According to Solomon, Ripley was “a typical male slob” who would leave his toys all over the house. Like any good mother, Katie would pick up after her child, placing the toys in their proper place.

Unlike Katie, who was full grown by the time she met Ripley, the younger dog kept growing, tipping the scales at 95 pounds. When Solomon was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was unable to handle two dogs, let alone a dog of Ripley’s size. So Katie’s best pal was adopted by a friend of the family. “Katie was fine with that because by that time she had come out of her shell,” said Solomon, who then trained her four-legged friend to become a therapy dog. “She’s terrific with people… she doesn’t lick them or jump up on them. She just wants to meet you and have you give her a hug.”

In addition to serving as the unofficial greeter at CROW’s Visitor Education Center, Katie is about to begin another job. Working in cooperation with the Children’s Advocacy Center of Southwest Florida, she will serve as a therapy dog at the Lee County Courthouse. “The judges will bring Katie into their chambers when they are hearing cases of child abuse,” said Solomon, who takes a lot of pride in knowing that her dog may be able to heal the hearts of youngsters in need. “It’s a terrific program that I know Katie will enjoy. She just loves being helpful.”

Thanks to our friends at the Island Sun for the doggy dispatch!

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