Rosie retires

After six years of service, Sue Szekely's therapy dog, Rosie, retires

Kristen Ray
Posted 3/25/20

The woman’s back was to Sue Szekely and her labradoodle “mutt” of a dog Rosie, as they walked into the activity room at Charlton Hospital. Seated in a wheelchair, she was surrounded …

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Rosie retires

After six years of service, Sue Szekely's therapy dog, Rosie, retires

Posted

The woman’s back was to Sue Szekely and her labradoodle “mutt” of a dog Rosie, as they walked into the activity room at Charlton Hospital. Seated in a wheelchair, she was surrounded by family and her physical therapist, who,  catching Ms. Szekely’s eye, suggested the pair greet the woman on the left-hand side. With Rosie now next to her, the therapist encouraged the woman reach out and pet the dog – and to everyone’s shock, that is exactly what she did.

It was the first time the woman had been able to move her left hand since suffering a stroke.

That was the power of Rosie – a certified therapy dog who, after six years on the job, has put in for retirement.

Finding a companion

Rosie first came into Ms. Szekely’s life back in 2006, when the pup was four months old and just a “little bundle of black fur.” At the time, Rosie was living with a family in Bristol, but the mother had turned out to be allergic, and the dog was suddenly in need of a new home.

The news was relayed to Ms. Szekely by a friend whose husband happened to be that family’s mail carrier. Recently, Ms. Szekely’s husband had passed away; as she puts it, she was “in need of another heartbeat in the house.” Despite her initial hesitations – Ms. Szekely was living alone and still working up in Boston – she decided to take Rosie in, bringing her back to her home in Wrentham, knowing she had the support of her neighbors if and when she needed it.

“She was a rescue, but she was rescued from a very loving and warm home,” Ms. Szekely said.

It was the first dog Ms. Szekely had owned herself, and Rosie quickly helped get her new mother out and moving. She would throw Rosie a ball until “her arm fell off,” would take her on walks and hikes outside. Before moving to Westport in 2011, Ms. Szekely had been checking out a property out in Sandwich when she first met Dan – now her partner of 12 years – who would join Ms. Szekely and Rosie for hikes together out on the Cape. 

“She got me out and about, and is the reason I’m with the person I am now,” Ms. Szekely said.

While Rosie was energetic when she wanted to be, Ms. Szekely said the pup’s temperament was always calm; if Ms. Szekely ran into anyone while they were out on their walks, Rosie would simply wait patiently until her mother’s conversation was done.

“She was always well-mannered, well-behaved,” she said.

It was not until 2014, when Rosie was eight, that Ms. Szekely first considered getting her certified as a therapy dog. She and Rosie had been visiting someone she knew in the rehabilitation center at Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River when their volunteer manager broached the subject with Ms. Szekely, telling her that a doctor in the emergency room department wanted to establish a pet therapy program.

“She was my therapy dog, but it was time to share her,” she said.

Making the rounds

Through the program Therapy Dogs International, Ms. Szekely and Rosie became certified, getting to work at a variety of institutions. In addition to Charlton, the duo added Active Day adult daycare center in Fairhaven and the Westport Free Public Library to their repertoire, keeping busy at least once a week. Each commitment, Ms. Szekely said, offered a different, rewarding experience.

At Charlton, Rosie provided the nurses and doctors a respite for the stress and chaos of their environment, and helped patients in the rehab center improve their mobility. Ms. Szekely would watch as they attempted to keep one hand on their walker while reaching out to pet Rosie with the other, or try to play fetch by throwing Rosie a soft, knitted ball.  As they would pass hospital rooms, Ms. Szekely would overhear patients telling visitors excitedly that they had just seen a dog.

“I loved when the elevator doors open and they come face to face with a dog,” Ms. Szekely said.

Active Day was a little different, as Ms. Szekely and Rosie first had to build trust with the adults. But once that relationship was established, Ms. Szekely was “warmed” by the environment, looking forward to seeing the same faces each time they went.

“They really got to know (Rosie) and look forward to us coming,” she said.

Then, as part of Therapy Dogs International’s Tail Waggin’ Tutors initiative, Ms. Szekely witnessed as children – some over the span of several years – worked to improve their reading confidence through the monthly “Read to Rosie” events at the Westport Library. Over the years, Ms. Szekely never failed to be impressed by Rosie’s natural instincts and her ability to help; each commitment offered her a different, rewarding experience.

“You get that instant gratification as a handler, all the time,” she said.

Rosie retires

While Ms. Szekely has enjoyed the work she and Rosie have been doing, she said the time has come for her dog to retire. Now 14-years-old with arthritis in her hips, Rosie has started getting nervous when they are out on the job.

“I promised myself I wasn’t going to keep doing this if she wasn’t enjoying it,” Ms. Szekely said.

In February, the pair said their goodbyes to both Charlton and Active Day; on Saturday, March 21, the library was to have hosted its final “Read to Rosie” event. Sadly that had to be called off due to the cornonavirus.

From there, the future is open-ended; Ms. Szekely, already retired, is considering a summer off, while Rosie will now have plenty of time to relax and go for walks.

“I’m letting her take it easy in her old age,” she said.

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