2007 Willow Award
We are so fortunate to have Holly C. Parker, CTRS, Coordinator of the Animal Assisted Therapy Program at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, to review all of the Willow Award nominations each year, and accept the nearly impossible task of choosing a recipient.
This year Holly wrote:
I had the distinct pleasure of reading all of the nominations for the Willow Award this year. There are so many whippets and their humans who are doing wonderful work to serve other people across our country. The whippet community should be so proud of each and every one. There were stories of whippets helping their owners through medical crises, whippets educating children about safe ways to interact with animals, whippets who are helping children learn to read, whippets who are serving as seizure alert dogs and many whippets doing therapy work in hospitals and nursing homes. Each of them is having a profound impact on the people they visit and serve.
The 2007 Willow Award goes to the team of Bella and Shawnie Rudd. Bella and Shawnie are a versatile therapy team who are visiting in two different acute care hospitals, an assisted living facility and are doing educational programs in schools. The person who nominated Bella wrote, "Bella and Shawnie are a dynamic therapy team. They are a great example of the generosity of spirit and time that is involved in volunteering."
One of the characteristics that I most loved about Willow was her ability to attach herself to a particular patient that desperately needed her time and attention. Bella seems to have this characteristic and Shawnie described her this way, "Usually during each visit Bella will find one or two patients that she'll decide to stay with. They are usually people who need her the most." This innate ability to sense a person's distress and need is not a skill we can teach or train a dog to do. This is their gift that they chose to share.
In the midst of Bella's weekly therapy work and her recreation time, which includes fly ball, agility training and lure coursing, she deals with her own disability of epilepsy. Bella's epilepsy is controlled with medication and her condition has helped her develop a special connection with the patients on the neuroscience unit of the hospital who have similar conditions.
Bella and Shawnie Rudd are a wonderful example of a therapy team who is making a difference in the lives of many people. They have enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to do therapy work. Their generous gifts of time and talents make them a perfect choice for the Willow Award.
Holly C. Parker, CTRS, Coordinator
Animal Assisted Therapy Program
National Institutes of Health
Allie Smith submitted the nomination:
It is my great pleasure to nominate the team of Bella (HH Heartland Queen Izabella, CGC) and Shawnie Rudd for the wonderful Willow Award. I know Shawnie and Bella (aka Miss Bella Bean) through an online whippet community. I have never met either of them in person but I have been inspired by reading the stories that Shawnie has posted about Bella and her therapy work.
When I asked Shawnie if she had nominated Bella for the Willow Award, here was her response:
"No, I haven't done so. Thank you for offering to nominate! That's very sweet of you!!! Honestly, we don't really care if we ever win awards -- the visits themselves are awards/rewards for us. It has been the most amazing experience for both of us."
While I understand what she means, a little recognition for a job well done is never a bad thing. So I decided to go ahead and nominate this wonderful pair.
Bella and Shawnie were certified one and a half years ago through their local SPCA's Pet Visitation Program for Florida. And I just found out today that Bella passed the Delta Society certification and is now Delta certified as well.
Visiting Hospitals and Nursing Homes
This team is quite busy – Bella has a whole lot of love to share. Here is Shawnie's description of the work they do:
"We visit FL Hospital Altamone every Thursday night for two hours. We usually visit Oncology, ICU and a general wing of the hospital. We also visit Savannah Cove Assisted Living Facility the first Saturday of every month with a group of dogs (rather than solo like at the hospital), and we visit Southland Suites Assisted Living Facility in Longwood. And every 2nd and 4th Saturday, we try touching base with Florida Hospital South (which is in Orlando) for visits to the neuroscience unit, ICU, and pediatrics.
We keep pretty busy. Bella is always requested. There are a lot of larger dogs that come in, but Bella is a little unique because she is tall enough for people to reach and pet her from beds or wheel chairs, but she is light enough (and compact of course) to go up on beds and visit. She is very small and un-intimidating. She's a very tiny whippet girl (19lbs at 3 years old), so she fits nicely on the bed and laps. She LOVES to snuggle with patients on their beds. That's her specialty. She also likes visiting with family members and hospital staff. She loves doing small tricks for them, and being a whippet, she is always a conversation-starter.
She just loves going on visits. She'll say "hello" for a few minutes to each room, and then she walks to the door, as though she's saying "next!" Usually during each visit, she'll find one or two patients that she'll decide to stay with. They are usually people who need her the most. She always seems to know. She has brought so many tears of joy and laughter to patients and family members; even staff on occasion. We've seen some really amazing things - how people open up to her or react to her physically (when they've been limited in movement). She's had terminal cancer patients talk to Bella about accepting death for the first time; she's had stroke patients or children with mental disabilities show the most amazing physical improvements with her, and she's shown how much people appreciate her visits because they miss pets of their own. The hospitals actually record reactions for each patient, as actual "therapy" rather than just visitation. It's amazing."
Below are some photos of Bella visiting with a patient in the hospital. According to Shawnie, on this recent visit,
"Bella decided to plop down with one patient on his bed, right in his lap, and didn't want to leave. She loves her job. He wanted to have his picture taken with her."
Visiting with Kids
Shawnie and Bella were asked to come and talk to a group of school children about therapy dogs or "working dogs," and how to properly approach and treat dogs. Bella was a real hit. The entire 3rd grade of the school came through to visit Bella. They had just finished a book about therapy dogs that week, so it was very timely.
One thing that Shawnie will tell you over and over is how much Bella loves her job as a therapy whippet. Shawnie shared the following story with me and I thought it was so adorable; I can really picture the scene:
"She gets very excited. She sees her jacket or leash and starts spinning and jumping around the house. If she hears me running the hallway bathtub, she automatically comes in and stands over the bathtub until I pick her up and put her in. She seems to know that baths mean an outing later that day (or a nice warm bath)."
When She Is Not Visiting
Bella has a true love of life and this versatile girl likes to participate in all kinds of activities.
Bella is training in flyball. Click on this link to see her practicing. (Be sure and turn down the volume – Shawnie warns that her voice reaches high-octave, annoying levels to get Bella excited.)
Bella is also training in agility. According to Shawnie, "she likes it much better than flyball. But I don't have any pictures of her doing it yet."
And when they have the time, Bella loves to lure course (she is the one in pink). Look at that cute little girl go.
Bella loves to run around in the yard and play catch with her buddies.
Click on this link to see her favorite trick - telling people that she likes to "run around."
I have watched this video so many times and each time it really makes me smile. Bella is such a sweetheart and I know that this trick has entertained many people.
Bella Is a TV Star
And as if all of this is not enough, Miss Bella Bean has also starred in a nationwide TV commercial with Mark Martin, the driver for the AAA #6 Ford Fusion in 2006. She was in the commercial with her adopted brother, Striker, a whippet rescue that Shawnie got when he was 10 years old. The commercial just recently won first place in a regional competition in the
prestigious Addy awards for Florida. The video can be viewed at: http://www.avidneogeo.com/aaa/
One Last Thing
Bella has a disability. She was diagnosed with epilepsy back in July of 2006, and Shawnie and her family almost lost this special girl. Here is what Shawnie has to say about it:
"I try not to let that define who she is of course. Fortunately, she is now regulated with medicine and a change of diet. Delta Society and the SPCA of Central Florida have both been very supportive of her and her condition. As a matter of fact, the neuroscience unit of the hospital is always asking how she's doing. They really like how she connects with patients with neurological problems or other disabilities like her. She's pretty special to me and others, as you can tell. We just love her like crazy."
Bella and Shawnie
Bella and Shawnie are a dynamic therapy team. They are a great example of the generosity of spirit and time that is involved in volunteering. I hope that I have been able to convey the love between these two amazing souls – one human and one whippet. I am inspired every day by the work that Shawnie and Bella do.
Thank you for considering Shawnie and Bella for the Willow Award. Willow was a one in a million girl and it is an amazing honor for whichever whippet wins this lovely award. But really, look at that face, how can you resist choosing Bella.
Patience Renzulli and the Warburton Whippets