Column: Danny Boy, the four-legged smile therapy doctor, will see you now

California

Charlie Lloyd wasn’t sure he was ready for another dog so soon after Lucky died. The retired counselor at Rancho San Antonio Boys Home in Chatsworth thought maybe they should wait a while, but his wife, Dottie, wanted to mend this hole in their hearts as soon as possible.

When Dot’s health began to fail, Charlie retired so he could spend more time with her. It was the most precious commodity they had left. Maybe she was right. A dog right now would only make it better.

He walked into their bedroom where Dottie was taking a nap, and gently shook her shoulder. “Honey, wake up,” Charlie said. “We’re going to the Chatsworth pound to get a dog.”

They found Hank cuddled on his blanket in the corner of his cage, just waiting for them. All the other dogs were barking — “take me, take me” — but Charlie and Dot had already made up their minds.

If Lucky had had a brother, it would have been Hank, another Jack Russell terrier. There was only one minor thing they had to change, his name. Neither of them liked Hank. When they got him home, they began going through the alphabet thinking of names. They never made it past D.

  • “Dr. Timmy,” a therapy dog, and his handler, Charlie Lloyd,...

    “Dr. Timmy,” a therapy dog, and his handler, Charlie Lloyd, 81, check in at the nurses station before heading out on rounds at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, CA, Thursday, April 27, 2023. “Dr. Timmy” and Charlie are back in service offering therapy to patients after a long absence due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • “Dr. Timmy,” a therapy dog, greets patient Jose Hernandez at...

    “Dr. Timmy,” a therapy dog, greets patient Jose Hernandez at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, CA, Thursday, April 27, 2023. “Dr. Timmy” and his handler Charlie Lloyd, 81, are back in service offering therapy to patients after a long absence due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • “Dr. Timmy,” a therapy dog, heads out for his rounds...

    “Dr. Timmy,” a therapy dog, heads out for his rounds at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, CA, Thursday, April 27, 2023. “Dr. Timmy” and his handler Charlie Lloyd, 81, are back in service offering therapy to patients after a long absence due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Therapy dog, “Dr. Timmy,” and handler Charlie Lloyd, 81, greet...

    Therapy dog, “Dr. Timmy,” and handler Charlie Lloyd, 81, greet Lorenzo Gabriel in the acute rehab clinic at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, CA, Thursday, April 27, 2023. “Dr. Timmy” and his handler Charlie Lloyd, 81, are back in service offering therapy to patients after a long absence due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Therapy dog, “Dr. Timmy,” and handler Charlie Lloyd, 81, are...

    Therapy dog, “Dr. Timmy,” and handler Charlie Lloyd, 81, are greeted by hospital staff at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, CA, Thursday, April 27, 2023. “Dr. Timmy” and his handler Charlie Lloyd, 81, are back in service offering therapy to patients after a long absence due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“Danny,” Dot said, “Danny Boy.” Perfect. Charlie hadn’t seen her happy like this in awhile, but it wasn’t long before the smiles faded. Dottie had a stroke and was rushed to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills with congestive heart failure.

While she was in the rehab unit, therapy dogs would stop in with their owners once or twice a week to visit.

“Honey, when you get out we’ll bring Danny Boy in to visit the patients, and the staff taking care of you,” Charlie said. Dottie smiled, but she knew the truth. She wasn’t getting out.

It was just the two of them after she died, Charlie and Danny, inseparable. Dottie knew her time was short, and didn’t want to leave her husband of 30 years alone in an empty house.

That’s why she wanted another dog so soon after Lucky died. Her husband would need him. She just didn’t realize how much.

Charlie got Danny certified as a therapy dog, and from 2011 to 2020, they visited every room on every floor of Holy Cross twice a week. Danny Boy was so good with the patients and staff that he was made an honorary physician.

Doctor Danny, they called him. Soon, he was making his rounds with a stethoscope dangling from his neck and a staff ID badge.

If patients weren’t too sick, he’d hop up on their bed and give them five minutes of the strongest medicine he could prescribe — a big dose of TLC.

It was marvelous to see, but all great runs have an end. All pet therapy and volunteer services workers at the hospital were furloughed after the pandemic hit, and six months after that Danny Boy passed away from prostate cancer.

Charlie took it hard. He was 80 years old and alone. After spending a few months in the dumps, he went back to the Chatsworth pound and began looking for another Danny Boy.

There was one who caught his eye. “What’s his name?” Charlie asked the kennel manager. “Boo Boo,” he said. Charlie laughed. That either had to be the worst or best name for a therapy dog he had ever heard.

He decided it was the worst and named him Timmy after a nephew. Timmy didn’t take to therapy training as well as Danny Boy, but he graduated and was ready when the call came from Holy Cross that pandemic restrictions were being eased.

Therapy dogs would be allowed back in the hospital, but not to visit with patients, yet. Their job would be to provide stress relief for all the doctors, nurses and support staff who had just spent two years in battle against a foe that tested all their skills and emotional boundaries.

They were tired and in need of a shot in the arm. They needed to see Dr. Danny again waddling down the hospital corridors with his stethoscope swinging from his neck.

It was emotional, Charlie said, when he went back with Timmy and all the gowned-up doctors and nurses took a few minutes to vet their feelings and catch Charlie up on the last few years fighting COVID.

They were so glad to see him back, but sad that Danny wasn’t with him. Charlie introduced them to Timmy, who had inherited Danny’s stethoscope and hospital ID badge.

Last Thursday was Timmy’s first day with patients, and judging by the rave reviews he’s a natural charmer, just like Danny Boy.

“I know there’s a big smile on Dottie’s face right now,” Charlie said. “She was my guide every step of the way, and Danny Boy was, too. They taught me so much.”

And, now he’s back with Dr. Timmy walking the halls of Holy Cross to deliver the strongest medicine they can prescribe – a big dose of TLC.

On every floor, in every room.

Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at dmccarthynews@gmail.com.

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