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The Amerman Family Foundation Dog Therapy Program has more than 100 fur volunteers who have all left their adorable paw prints on the hearts of our patients and staff. However, we want to honor a special guy who has dedicated 10 years of his life to making people smile—Oscar.
Oscar, a 15-year-old Labrador Retriever, is retiring after spending countless hours volunteering at CHLA alongside his mom, Jacqui. He spent his visits going door-to-door with his tail wagging and a happy grin, eager to give a child, parent or staff member a little giggle or giant hug.
"Oscar is a gentle and generous spirit and has brightened the days of so many people during his decade as a volunteer," says Kate Buhrmaster, the program's coordinator. "Like his fellow therapy dogs, Oscar just intuitively knows that it's his mission in life to prompt smiles, giggles, snuggles and hugs and he has never wavered in his dedication to his job. We don't often get a chance to celebrate our four-legged friends after this length of service, so Oscar's retirement is a great reminder that while a therapy dog's working life may not last forever, his visits have had an unforgettable impact."
We're sad to see Oscar go, but we are so thankful for the memories we've had with him and his mom. We're wishing Oscar a happy retirement and we hope it's full of belly rubs!
Oscar’s early years were rough, and it took a concerted effort from a lot of strangers to rescue him from his unhappy situation. The backstory goes something like this—Oscar lived near Santa Barbara outside a home near a small airport where he was left tied up day and night. The local pilots who worked nearby saw Oscar abused on many occasions and made it their mission to help Oscar get rescued.
Fortunately, Jacqui heard about his plight at exactly the right time, drove to meet him, and says she “fell in love at first sight.” Despite all he’d been through, Oscar was gentle, sweet, and eager to give love. At the time, Jacqui didn’t know anything about therapy dog work. She heard about it, and decided to give volunteering with Oscar a whirl when she was feeling low after a break-up. She credits volunteering with Oscar with changing her whole perspective (see her words, below), and in May of 2015, Oscar served as ring-bearer in her wedding. Lately, his visits to CHLA have only gone as far as the lobby. Though unable to go door to door or get on patient beds, he has continued to enjoy making new friends and being loved on by strangers, and of course offering up unconditional doggie affection in return.
We started volunteering when I was in my early twenties and going through the first and worst broken heart of my life. I was miserable and Oscar was the only thing that made me smile and feel better. I decided to give volunteering with him a shot because I needed an escape from feeling gloomy about the break-up and I was trying to find things to get me out of the house. I figured, what do I have to lose? Even if I don’t like it, at least I get to spend time with my best friend.
Well, let me tell you something I learned real quick on this new journey that it’s really hard to feel bad about yourself when you step foot in a children’s hospital. Suddenly all my problems seemed so insignificant. My attitude towards life changed almost immediately. I was grateful to be healthy and able to share my furry friend to help make people smile. Oscar continued to amaze me with patients and gave my life a purpose again by showing me how easy it is to make a difference in someone’s life (even if I was just his chauffer and he did all the work!)
Seeing how a dog can change the energy in an entire room or with just a single kid is something quite magical. I love seeing how excited Oscar gets when he knows where he’s going, and I love seeing a kid’s face light up when they realize Oscar is at their doorstep eager to visit. This whole experience is so humbling and rewarding.
One unforgettable visit went like this: Oscar was lying next to a young boy, about 4, who was blind. The child was gently rubbing Oscar’s belly. Suddenly he started to smile and announced, “Oh my gosh! I can feel his heart! It’s so big!” I asked the boy what, exactly, it felt like, and his answer will stick with me forever, “It feels SO BIG… like it’s full of love.”