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March 13, 2012

Therapy Dogs are "Building Unity in the Community" for People of All Ages By Sheriff Leon Lott

You could say Deputy Lewis Marshall has a little "luck" following him everywhere he goes... as in "Lucky" his four-legged partner. The two spend their workdays together visiting Richland County schools, hospitals and assisted living homes. But don't be fooled... Lucky is not the typical police dog. He's a therapy dog.

"Lucky has done things the run of the mill dog can't," says Marshall. "Lucky is allowed to go into areas of buildings and hospitals the average animal can not go."

Lucky gets special access because his fur does not shed as much as the typical dog breed and Marshall gives Lucky baths to keep him smelling good. The 100 pound grey poodle- yes, poodle- is called a ray of light to those who feel down and out.

"He was socialized and trained starting at 4 months old immediately after I got him," says Marshall, who came to the Department in 1997 having been in Law Enforcement for more than 45 years.

As Sheriff, I believe that our seniors are the foundation of our community – that we must care for and provide services and tools necessary to enhance our seniors quality of life. I created Project HOPE (Helping our Precious Elderly) in Richland County to make sure that the large senior population is cared for and not targeted by the criminals. Our Therapy Dog Program is another effective tool that not only gives back to our elderly but also helps those facing illness or adversity.

Marshall says, "It's a great thing to help someone forget about the pain, and to see them smile for a while during our visit. But it's so hard when you see someone make friends with Lucky over time... and then one week we go back and they are gone. That's the hardest part of this job."

In a typical 8 hour workday, the two will travel to multiple locations and see dozens of people- who all know Lucky by name. "Sometimes I feel like I'm just a driver for Lucky- like he's actually my handler," Marshall says laughing. "They certainly love on him."

But what can you say? Lucky does tricks, gives kisses and will even sit and beg on command. Marshall says with a smile, "I could never compete with such perfection."

I have spoken with countless doctors and nurses who have seen the impact Marshall and Lucky have while visiting. For example, one doctor told me about how Lucky jumped into a bed with a child who had a terminal illness providing comfort and loving final moments. They provide entertainment, consistency in visitations, interactive therapy and the ability to help people forget about their illnesses.














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