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ANIMALS

Four-Legged Therapist

April 27, 1986|VICKI HEARNE

Ellie had to sit out the Christmas party because she was in full season, and that makes life rough for even the noblest of her male friends. Ellie's friends are mostly working dogs with careers to attend to.

Fortunately for Ellie's friends, the fact that Ellie is on the sidelines doesn't mean that she isn't still on the job, operating from behind the scenes. What she does is to continually check things out, making sure no one is getting into any trouble. At that December obedience demonstration, for example, there was one child who became momentarily frightened, and his lower lip was starting to tremble, because he thought he was lost. Ellie said, "Oops!" and attracted the child's attention. He came over to Ellie, got a lick and a pet from Ellie, and giggled because the beautiful dog had made friends with him. That meant that Mama and Papa didn't have to console an upset child, and that in turn meant that they were free to keep their attention on the stars of the show, who were educating the public about the extraordinary abilities of dogs.

Ellie is opinionated about dog behavior; she's a mother and has had to raise some unruly sons. That's why she ended up refusing to allow Bobbe Morris, her owner, to let Morris' house guest, 2-year-old Fallon, play with a new toy dog. Fallon had just been given one of those toy dogs that bark and run around when you clap your hands, and then stop barking and stand still when you clap again. To the Morris family members and their friends, the dog was a delightful toy, but to Ellie it was just more nuisance barking. Since Bobbe Morris is a volunteer animal control officer, Ellie goes "Oops!" when she hears nuisance barking, because she knows that dogs who are ignorant enough to do nuisance barking can end up in the pound. She learned to turn the toy dog off by barking at it.

Ellie's hobby is therapy. She's one of a team of therapy dogs, some of whom work at hospitals and convalescent homes full time. Ellie is just part time, but she's especially effective, for the same reason she's so good at controlling nuisance barking and calming upset children at Christmas parties. She can sense when a patient starts to shift into an unhappy or depressed mode of thought. When that happens, Ellie says, "Oops!" and gets on the case. She's so good at that that I haven't any idea what she does or how she does it.

Did you know that a 20-pound Pembroke Welsh corgi can save both her son and an upset animal control officer who can't swim from drowning? During the big storms in February, the creek near Morris' home had become a raging flood, and Ellie's son R. C. had dashed happily out into what he had known as a shallow creek. He panicked and started swimming rapidly away from shore downstream. Morris panicked and plunged into the creek herself, dressed in heavy winter clothing. In three strides she was suddenly up to her chest in water, "screaming hysterically, because I thought I was watching my puppy drown, and then I was drowning." Ellie, who hates to so much as get her feet wet, said, "Oops!"

She leaped into the flood and swam to Morris. With Ellie in her arms, Morris was able to think properly again, and when Morris started to think properly again, R. C. was able to think properly again, and with his last strength, he turned around and swam back to shore and to Mama. People who know Ellie tell many conflicting stories to account for her abilities. All of them are true, including the one I like--the one about her registered AKC name, which is Lost Hills Ellie Oop.

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