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Old June 17th, 2003, 10:28 AM
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Friendly dog makes people smile

By ERIC LaROSE

EagleHerald staff writer

PESHTIGO -- Do you believe in Magic? Some residents at the Rennes West Health Center, 501 N. Lake St., Peshtigo, do. But this Magic isn't an illusion. Magic is a therapy dog.

The 4-year-old female German Shepherd, Magic for short and Shur-Lo's Majestique for long, has been working as a therapy dog since the age of 12 weeks, and was recently awarded the Therapy Dog International Active Outstanding Volunteer award for making more than 150 visits to facilities in Crivitz, Marinette, Oconto, Menominee and, of course, Peshtigo.

It is the highest honor for a therapy dog.

Magic's owner, Viette Hornick of Marinette, said that Magic helps the people she visits by entertaining them. And sometimes, entertainment is the best medicine.

"A therapy dog gives emotional support for the people who are shut-ins and things like that," said Hornick. "The residents all look forward to her visits, and they are always happy to see us come."

She went on to say that the visits from Magic often remind people of their own dogs, or other pets they had when they were children.

"That opens up conversations, and brings back memories they can share," she said. And that is how Hornick got involved in the first place.

She started visiting Rennes West in 1996 with her last dog, a German Shepherd named Fancy, while her sister-in-law was there because of Alzheimer's.

"I found then that if I brought the dog, I could get her to pet the dog and talk to the dog," she said tearfully describing the emotional time. "Well then I would meet different people and we would stop and talk to them. And they enjoyed the dog so much that I said that we might as well make the dog into a therapy dog, and we've been coming ever since."

Magic does do a lot of tricks. She gives kisses, she can sit, and say hello and good-bye (in dog-speak), she can show amazing restraint while holding a dog biscuit in her mouth without eating it, she gets the mail, jumps through hoops and she can pick which hand is holding a dog treat.

But with all magic tricks, there are illusions to Magic's tricks. Though she does give kisses freely, as an added incentive for longer, friendlier kisses, on occasion a dollop of peanut butter will do the trick.

And she can pick out the hand with the dog treat, but her owner gives her a little signal, telling her where it is.

And it's all in good fun. Lorraine Fritz, a resident at Rennes West, laughed as Magic gave her an extended kiss.

"Magic is a nice baby," said Fritz, who is originally from Oconto.

Magic is a member of Therapy Dogs International, Inc., which was founded in Hillsdale, N.J., in 1976 by Elaine Smith, who worked as a registered nurse in England and currently lived in California according to the organization's Web site.

The organization's headquarters are located in Flanders, N.J., and has been instrumental in creating a certification test for dogs, the Canine Good Citizen Test that all therapy dogs have to pass, and to alert hospitals and other institutions of the importance of therapy dog visits.

A representative for the organization said that they have more than 12,000 registered members, including some members in Canada, Germany, Australia, and France.

And even though Hornick's dogs have both been German Shepherds, dogs used for therapy work can be of any size and type.

"A German Shepherd is a very versatile dog," said Hornick. "Then can do obedience, they can do herding, they can do tracking, they can do the whole bit."

And Magic seems to like what she's doing. When asked if she enjoyed his work she did reply with a hearty "woof," which really could mean anything but it can be assumed that shemeant to say, "yes."

For more information about therapy dogs, consult Therapy Dogs International, Inc. consult their Web site at www.tdi-dog.org.
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