Therapy Dog 2. Tucker’s Story

One day Bev Johnson visited her mother, who was nearing the end of her struggle with Alzheimer’s.  It had been many months since her mother recognized her or had spoken or shown any sign that she was aware of her surroundings.  Mom lived in her private fog.

That day a therapy dog visited the facility. Bev noticed that her mother’s eyes followed the dog visiting the home’s clients.  When the dog came over to where they were siting, Bev’s mother’s eyes fixed on the dog.  After a few moments of staring, her mother asked, “What’s the dog’s name?”  That’s all, a simple question.  Then she slipped back into her fog.

“But,” Bev said, “for a few moments, I had my mother back.”  It was an emotional moment and I promised myself that one day I would give that experience to others.”

Bev’s telling of her life-changing moment sent a shiver through me.

Today, Bev is president of the Dynamic Dogs Club, in The Villages, a retirement community in Central Florida.  Bev has trained 67 therapy dogs.  (More at

This is the story of her dog, Tucker.



Tucker is a 17-pound European miniature poodle.  At seven years, he is in the prime of his life and works at several jobs. 

He works as a reading dog in the Reading Education Assistive Dog (R.E.A.D) program.  Tucker sits quietly and listens to children read.  Usually the kids are 7 years old or younger and English is their second language.  Dogs are patient listeners, ya know.

If Bev wants to check on the child’s comprehension, she tugs her ear to signal Tucker.  This is Tucker’s cue to reach out his paw and place it on the reader’s book.

“Tucker has a question,” Bev will say as she leans down to put her ear to the dog’s lips.  “Tucker wants to know . . .”  and Bev will ask a question from the book’s narrative.

Slick, eh?

More information about R.E.A.D. from Intermountain Therapy Animals at

Tucker’s second job is at a hospital in Leesburg, FL. 

I was invited to join him at his Friday job at the Lady Lake Specialty Care Center.  He arrives and makes an entrance like a rock star. He takes his fan club in stride.  Everyone on the staff stops and comes over to exchange big smiles and kisses with Tucker.  He is getting warmed up for the real work of visiting with the Center’s clients. 

We enter a room lined on one side with wheelchairs and on the other with exercise equipment.  Faces brighten.  Smiles curl.  The anticipation is palpable.

Every space is occupied.  A dozen therapists in the room help, encourage, cajole. 

“Take one more step.”

“You can do it.”

“Can you lift your knee without using your hands?”

“There’s Tucker.  Do you want to say hello?”

Tucker and Bev make their rounds, leaving joy in their wake.

Tucker and Bev sometimes ham it up for the audience.

Tucker doesn’t always wait for an assignment.  One day after completing a shift at a the Center, as he and Bev were leaving, Tucker saw a man in a wheelchair at the end of a hall near the nurses’ station.  He stood as Bev tugged on his leash.  In spite of her insistence, Tucker sat down and stared down the hall.  When Bev realized they weren’t going anywhere until Tucker reached out to the man, they walked the length of the hall and greeted the man.

The man sagged in his wheelchair, his head on his chest, his left arm hung limp outside the armrest.  He was motionless, seemed unaware of the activity around him.  And he seemed invisible to the busy nurses coming and going about their chores.

Tucker walked to the man and ducked his head under the man’s left hand.  When there was no response, Tucker bobbed his head back and forth beneath the hand.  After a time the man’s fingers found some energy and began tiny flexes in the soft apricot hair of Tucker’s head.

“Nice doggie,” he was heard to say.

The frenzy at the nurse’s station froze.  Jaws dropped.

It was the first words the man had spoken in two years.

It makes you want to lead a good life so that in the next one you might come back as a therapy dog.





13 Responses to Therapy Dog 2. Tucker’s Story

  1. emaslan says:

    What a sweet story, thank you Al!

  2. Patricia Grace says:

    Lovely, Al. What a wonderful experience you are having! Continued congrats. Love and good on you, Pat

  3. I had a visit yesterday by Dirk Wales who is a member of our Book Club here in California thanks to you AL. He would love this having done the books on Owney the U.S. Rail Mail Mascot called A LUCKY DOG. I enjoyed this very heart warming story.

  4. Colleen Rae says:

    Thanks, Al for the lovely stories of Tucker. He sounds like a soulmate of Shiloh. Therapy dogs ARE amazing animals. They sense things in humans that even other humans don’t always sense.
    What wonderful experiences you are having. Go Al…

  5. Colleen Rae says:

    I meant to say – your stories brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for that, too.

  6. Oh by the way AL. Dogs have Hair not FUR.

  7. allevenson says:

    Dogs may have hair, which grows and must be trimmed; or fur. which sheds. I was in error about Tucker, who has hair.

  8. karen wittgraf says:

    On a morning of worry and stress, reading about Tucker was respite care for me. Thank you,Al!

  9. Pat Bean says:

    Great dog that Tucker, and great blog Al.

  10. Claudia Sims says:

    We had similar experiences with our little darling dancing Dachshund Dieter when we would take him to visit my husband’s mother in her last years; she loved him and got joy from every visit. I smiled at the story of what the mother asking what the dog’s name was. A woman on my mother-in-law’s hall could not remember her daughter’s name, much less friends, staff, etc. She always perked-up when Dieter came to visit my mother-in-law; one day she asked if she could come in to to pet him. She asked what his name was; we told her and then she proceeded to tell us the name of every dog she had her entire life!

  11. Bev Johnson says:

    Dear Al, How can I thank you enough for the wonderful way you have shared our story? I love the photos and your writing style was so kind, great to read, and thoughtful to encourage others during those ‘recovery ruts’ we Seniors fall into. You’re on the road again but I hope you’ll return someday when you’d like a ‘dose’ of Tucker and Friends. May God Bless you richly!
    Cheers, Bev

  12. terri says:

    Al, thank you for the Tucker Story, as you know, I have done a lot of the same with my rescue cats, when I take them to nursing homes, the people’s faces light up. Or when I am at our Mobile Adoption Site & People (kids or adults) come in (maybe just to look) once they start to interact with the kitties, they start smiling.

  13. Karen Goucher says:

    Well Al, this surely brought tears to my eyes…….

    Tucker reminds me so much of Scuffy….our dog (they look similar too). Scuffy came into our lives
    unexpectedly……bought in a WALMART parking lot while RVing. Scuffy picked Herb, my
    husband. Herb is facing serious heart surgery…..his aorta is enlarged and needs
    a dacron lining put in as well as a replacement for his leaking valve….cow heart
    skin is our choice. Scuffy was brought to the hospital by me on the advice of Herb’s
    nurse to bring Herb’s blood pressure down as they couldn’t after 13 hours in emergency
    on New Years Day. It worked. He was released hours afterwards. Scuffy makes Herb
    get out of bed earlier, makes him walk 3-4 miles a day. Scuffy will not accept backyard
    relief now….it must be walking. Herb must get in shape for the surgery in May/June.
    I want for Scuffy to have ‘service dog’ status so he can visit in the hospital,
    go where Herb goes……afterwards during recovery. They are inseparable until the dog
    rules off limits are placed. It is heartbreaking. Many places do not accept dogs but
    would happily if there was a service dog sweater, tag or ID.

    PS Herb was born February 4th… was Scuffy. We found this out months later. It was
    Karen from Canada…..

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