Downeast Dog News
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Spotlight on Three Special Maine Dogs

By Susan Spisak | Sep 01, 2020
Amy and Dolly

Aura, Dolly Pawton, and Lucky Tim are treasured dogs making a difference. Aura and Dolly Pawton are service dogs who perform specific tasks for their owners, while Lucky Tim is a three-legged therapy dog who garnered national attention and is working at Leeds Central School in Leeds. Aura and Dolly Pawton are enjoying that attention – they’re among seven finalists in the 2020 American Humane Hero Dog Awards®. Both took top honors in their categories from a field of 408 nominees and are competing for the American Hero Dog title.

Aura

“I felt I needed to recognize her service to me. Her devotion and dedication changed my life,” said Brunswick resident Command Sergeant Major Gretchen Evans of why she nominated her hearing service dog, Aura, for the Hero Dog Awards in the Guide/Hearing category.

Evans lost her hearing in 2006 while serving in the US Army in Afghanistan - an enemy rocket attack left her not only deaf but with a Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These injuries forced the award-winning, highly decorated Evans to retire after 27 years in the military. While she learned to read lips and still had the ability to speak, she felt disconnected. Evans credits Aura, who she was teamed with through America’s VetDogs almost six years ago, as the key ingredient to restoring her independence and passion.

The smart Labrador/Golden Retriever mix alerts her to sounds like the doorbell, alarm clock, even her husband calling from another room. Aura’s cue is to gently poke her leg and Evans responds, “What? Where is it?” Aura will lead her to the sound. In addition to being her ears, she mitigates Evans’ PTSD, provides nightmare interruption by pulling at the sheet, nuzzling with her nose, or jumping on her chest. Aura drives with her by law and alerts her to sirens and horns.

With Aura by her side, she picked up her love of running, hiking, and water sports. She compiled a team of athletes to participate in World's Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji. “My ‘Team Unbroken’ is made up of wounded/disabled veterans, and we are the first disabled team to compete in an elite adventure race.” They trained in North Carolina with Aura as the team mascot, but it was too dangerous for her to go to the Fiji event. (The series began airing August 14 on Amazon Prime. “Team Unbroken” was featured, but Evans couldn’t disclose further details.)

Evans is forever grateful to Aura. “The minute they gave me the leash to Aura I knew she was going to be exactly what I needed…I don’t consider myself a deaf person anymore since I have Aura. She saved my life.”

Dolly Pawton aka Dolly

Four-year-old Dolly Pawton – so named as a tribute to Dolly Parton - is the winner in the Service Dog Category of the Hero Dog Awards®. The cardiac-alert service dog was nominated by her owner and trainer, Naples resident Amy Sherwood, and is sponsored by Lulu’s Fund, a sector of the Timothy T. Day Foundation that ongoingly commits to the animal rescue community, charities, and other organizations.

Sherwood suffers from POTS, a condition that affects her blood flow causing lightheadedness, fainting, and blood pressure changes. She has congestive heart failure as well, all confining her to a wheelchair. When Dolly senses a cardiac change, she’ll alert her with her paw, can press a 911 button, and will seek medical attention in public if necessary. Sherwood also suffers from PTSD – she is a domestic violence victim, and although Dolly isn’t specifically trained in that realm, she intuitively feels her nervousness with strangers, “She doesn’t let people get too close.”

Dolly performs tasks such as pulling her wheelchair, opening doors, and loading the washer. Her canine has brought light and confidence to her days. “I call her my medical equipment with a heart.” When it’s playtime, the Lab loves dock diving with Sherwood nearby and has competed twice in the DockDogs World Championships.

She has a Facebook page (facebook.com/missdollypawton/about) and her own PO Box for fan mail. She looks forward to trips to the post office to retrieve notes and drawings from children. (Dolly Pawton, PO Box 294, Naples, Maine 04055.)

“I’m honored to have gotten this far,” said Sherwood. “It’s mind-blowing…This is probably the most exciting and scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Hallmark Channel crews will film segments on Aura and Dolly that will air on the 2020 American Humane Hero Dog Awards® in October. (Check local listings for date/time.) The 2020 American Hero Dog will be announced. Voting is open until 12pm Pacific Time on September 10. Vote for both Maine dogs at herodogawards.org/vote/.

Lucky Tim

Tim was born with a deformed front leg in December of 2018 at Varney’s Labs breeding facility. Retired Army Sergeant Christy Gardner worked there and knew the yellow Lab had potential. Varney’s owners agreed that the pup would be best suited as a school therapy dog. So double amputee Gardner, a skilled service and therapy dog trainer, took the pup home and began raising and training him with her service dog, Moxie. During those first few months, a vet specialist determined that Tim’s leg should be amputated, but the plucky Lab took life as a tripod in stride.

Gardner, with Moxie at her side, had been to Leeds Central School to speak on service dogs. She approached school leaders about Tim becoming their in-house therapy dog to bring joy, comfort, and alleviate any anxiety in students. Principal Danielle Harris campaigned for and received permission from the superintendent and school board. A naming contest was held among the students – he became Lucky Tim.

Originally Harris was to be his owner/handler, but that changed. During Tim’s first year when Gardner was involved with her sled hockey teams and U.S. Paralympic training, Claire Parker, Administrative Assistant to Harris, would care for him. “Claire ended up working with Christy the closest. They got to be friends, and Claire helped train him,” Harris explained. “He bonded so much with me and my family. Christy thought this was the best choice,” Parker added. She even helped Gardner behind the scenes when Lucky Tim was in Lewiston-Auburn’s Community Little Theatre production of Annie in October of 2019.

When Lucky Tim turned one last December, he officially moved into Parker’s home thrilling her husband and daughter. Later that month, he passed his certifications, and Parker registered him with the Allegiance of Therapy Dogs. Recently, he’s received more attention - the children’s book, Lucky: Little Guy BIG Mission, co-written by Gardner and Eileen Doyon, was published. Parker said Gardner’s devoted to him – she’ll always be a part of his life.

Before COVID-19 closed schools, Lucky Tim spent his days at Leeds. He and Parker greeted students at the bus. Come recess time, he’d play with the kids. Students stopped at the office to read to him. Harris said the teachers would walk the Lab, giving them a break as well. “He’s a wonderful addition to our school.”

As far as being the Parker’s family pet, Lucky Tim’s got that role nailed down. “He’s amazing. He goes everywhere with us.” He loves hiking, running, and the water. People ask her, “How can he swim?” She answers, “I don’t know, you should ask him,” laughed Parker.