The Love Dogs in the Review Journal

Local Love Dogs hope to fetch hero awards


Look for this photo of Atlas to vote for him

Look for this photo of Atlas to vote for him

When it comes to therapy dogs, everyone knows they do good work. Now two local dogs have a chance to shine for Las Vegas, but they need your votes.

The two dogs are Benny, a poodle mix, and Atlas, a Newfoundland, both members of the Love Dog Adventures animal therapy program. They are competing in the American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Awards.

Look for this photo of Atlas to vote for him

Look for this photo of Atlas to vote for him

Readers can vote once a day by visiting and selecting “Vote Now” and then the “Therapy Dogs” category. Voting is open until May 15 and will determine the top three dogs in each category that will go on to the next round of public voting.

ESKIMO KISSES BENNY.JPGThe Hero Dog Awards are an annual national competition that recognizes ordinary dogs that do extraordinary things — saving lives on the battlefield or lending sight or hearing to a human companion. The ultimate winners in each category will be flown to Hollywood with their human friends to attend the AHA Hero Dog Gala, where they’ll walk the red carpet.

“These are their Oscars,” said Summerlin-area resident Sue Grundfest, who founded Love Dog Adventures about six years ago.

If either Benny or Atlas wins, Love Dog’s national program, Pet Partners, will receive a $5,000 prize.

Look for this photo of Benny to vote for him

Look for this photo of Benny to vote for him

Grundfest grew Love Dog from one canine to its current 30 animals, including a cat. At one time, it even included a therapy horse. The animals are not typical sit-on-your-lap types: They are classified for animal-assisted therapy. They have special training to work in two hospitals, long-term care facilities, residential treatment centers and a group home for severely disabled youths, as well as with stroke patients and children who have endured a life-defining trauma.

“A lot of the places we go are confidential,” Grundfest said. “They’re the only animals brought in to work with that population.”

The Love Dog animals also are part of an anti-bullying program, Be Cool Not Cruel, that travels from school to school.

Benny is Grundfest’s poodle mix, saved by Heaven Can Wait Animal Society. The group had tried to place Benny several times, but the owners kept bringing him back, saying he was a demon dog and an uncontrollable escape artist.

“He was in the back of the cage in the fetal position,” Grundfest recalled. “I said, ‘This dog is not mean, he’s scared.’ “

She sat with her back to him for two hours until he finally approached her. She said he proved himself to be a perfect therapy dog, and they’ve been a pair ever since.

Lindsay Pearlman owns Atlas, age 2½.

Although Atlas came from a breeder and had excellent lineage, he has a heart condition and elbow and hip dysplasia. At 5 months old, he had his first elbow surgery and has had more since.

“He never lets it bother him, though he walks a little funny,” Pearlman said.

Pearlman decided he would make a great therapy dog.

“The biggest thing for me was his eye contact,” Pearlman said. “He’ll just gaze at you, and gaze, and gaze and gaze. He loves people, and he has that personality where he just wants to be near you. He doesn’t need to be petted. He doesn’t need to be doing something; he’s just content to be with somebody.”

She learned about Love Dog Adventures and got him certified roughly six months ago. Both Benny and Atlas worked with an autistic boy, Julian, who was “deathly afraid of dogs,” Pearlman said. “Sue started working with him with her dog … but Atlas was the biggest dog he’d ever met.”

Atlas and Julian have different interactions. For fine motor skills, Julian will brush him. For communication, they’ll read a book together. Atlas had a learning curve, too, when the rehab center wanted him to bark.

“He was trained not to,” Pearlman said. “But they wanted him to act like a dog … to show Julian that he shouldn’t be scared.”

Before Atlas came to the center, he was a “virtual therapy dog,” Pearlman said. Grundfest had printed a book showing pictures of him in various stages of recovery after surgeries so children could better understand what he’d been through. When he made his first appearance, the children were already familiar with him.

“I don’t expect we’ll win, but anything is possible,” Pearlman said. “It’s good publicity; the two Las Vegas dogs are Love Dogs, essentially.”

To celebrate National Therapy Animal Day, Love Dog Adventures plans to host a Meet The Love Dogs event from 4 to 7 p.m. May 18 at Mingo Kitchen & Lounge, 1017 S. First St., Suite 180. To attend, RSVP by May 11 by emailing or calling 702-202-2641.

Love Dog Adventures

Love Dog Adventures is a not-for-profit, all-volunteer animal-assisted therapy program. It is about to get its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status and will be accepting donations online shortly. Until then, it depends on donations to keep its programming going. Check can be sent to Love Dog Adventures, 10222 Cantiamo Court, Las Vegas, NV 89135.


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