Rocky’S Road

Rescue dog becomes therapy dog — to the delight of care home residents


Rocky, a rescue dog turned therapy dog, spreads the love at Payson Care Center.

Rocky, a rescue dog turned therapy dog, spreads the love at Payson Care Center.

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Rocky fidgeted in the chair, keeping a close eye on his mom, Trisha. Stephanie sat in a wheelchair next to him, keeping a close eye on Rocky. Gingerly, she placed an arm around his neck. Rocky turned, leaned on Stephanie’s arm and gently kissed her on the face. She beamed.

This wasn’t a first date: It was Rocky, the pit bull, making new friends at Payson Care Center. Grieving the loss of her Great Dane, Trisha saw Rocky’s picture in the Roundup. “He spoke to me,” she says. Trisha came to the Humane Society to meet Rocky and fell in love. Moreover, he got along great with her other dog, Daisy, and two cats.

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Photo courtesy of Humane Society of Central Arizona

Once a homeless pit bull at the Humane Society, Rocky is now one of the most popular visitors at Payson Care Center.

Handicapped by a stroke, Trisha’s husband was living at Payson Care Center. With a nurse’s OK, Trisha brought Rocky and Daisy over for a visit. Not only did her husband’s eyes light up when she brought the dogs in, but many other patients also got a kick out of seeing the dogs. After a year of visits, Trisha resolved to turn Rocky into a therapy dog.

Enrolled in a volunteer training program at the Arizona State Veteran Home, Rocky took to his new role. Trisha said pit bulls are very friendly with new people and adapt quickly to new situations. Rocky took strangers and wheelchairs in stride, but took a dim view of the elevator.

Trisha took her time, and gradually Rocky adapted. “And the veterans loved to see him, especially women vets,” Trisha says.

Still a young, energetic dog, right now Rocky keeps his visits to an hour or less. He could learn a thing or two from Viola, who sat patiently in a wheelchair watching Rocky flirt with Stephanie. Viola is a longtime dog lover and she looked forward to getting a kiss from Rocky herself. But Rocky was antsy. He wanted to explore. So he hopped down and began roaming about the room.

But Viola’s dog-savvy got the better of him. She filled a cup with water and held it close. Rocky came over and settled next to her. With a little encouragement, he hopped back up in the chair. Viola held out her lips for a kiss, then cracked a big smile as Rocky obliged.

Rocky and Trisha currently make their rounds at the Arizona State Veteran Home, U.S. Vets and several nursing homes in Phoenix.

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