Canine caretaker

By on December 30, 2013


LAURIE KNOWLES CALLANAN Record Express Correspondent

, Staff Writer

Photo by Laurie Knowles Callananâ?©Brenda Ulrich and Maggie the therapy dog

Maggie began her life as a homeless puppy left in a cardboard box.

Now the nine-year-old Black Labrador Retriever is a gift to all who know her. She is a Certified Therapy Dog, giving joy to residents at Ephrata Manor and helping children read at Lititz Public Library. She even dresses up in Halloween costumes, Christmas hats and special outfits for themed parties at the retirement home.

If it makes people happy, it makes Maggie happy. She’s just that kind of dog.

"Maggie has the ability to talk with her eyes," says her owner Brenda Ulrich. "She can sense what people need and be there for them."

Maggie lives with Brenda and William Ulrich, who relocated to the Ephrata area after living near Williamsport, Pa. She has a "brother" Murphy, who is eight years old and also a Black Lab. The two dogs are both rescue dogs, but not from the same litter.

Maggie’s story began near Williamsport, when she was one of five puppies abandoned in a dirty cardboard box in the middle of winter. The cold and hungry puppies were rescued by the local SPCA, and William Ulrich decided to check them out for his wife.

Brenda Ulrich wasn’t quite ready for a new dog at that time. Or least she didn’t think so. Her beloved lab Jessie had died from kidney failure and Brenda was broken-hearted.

"I couldn’t imagine another dog then," says Ulrich. "But my husband was insistent. He even put down a deposit on Maggie."

When Brenda Ulrich went to the SPCA , her husband was right. She fell in love with the sweet, gentle Maggie. Maggie had a new home.

It was when Maggie first met their grandson, Conor, of Ephrata that Ulrich discovered how wonderful her rescued dog really was. Conor is a special needs child born with Downs Syndrome, who was also diagnosed with autism. When Maggie met Conor for the first time, she crawled over next to him and devotedly remained at his side. From that moment on, Conor and Maggie had a special bond.

The Ulrichs were so impressed with Maggie’s sensitivity, they decided to have her evaluated as a therapy dog. Not surprisingly, Maggie tested very well, meeting standards such as accepting strangers, walking through a crowd, reacting well to other dogs, not being affected by distractions, responding well to children and showing sensitivity to the elderly or sick. After undergoing a training program, Maggie was certified as a therapy dog, and began visiting schools and nursing homes.

"She passed all tests by the age of 14 months and became a Certified Therapy Dog with Therapy Dogs International," notes Ulrich.

A few years later, the Ulrichs decided to move back to the Ephrata area. They had previously lived in Akron. They wanted to be closer to their grandsons, Conor, now 10, and Liam, 9. Conor and Maggie were close and Conor seemed to thrive whenever Maggie was around. Liam was just happy to have a canine pal for all those normal boy things like playing ball.

Once the Ulrichs had returned to Ephrata, Brenda Ulrich contacted the Ephrata Manor to see of they might like visits from a therapy dog. The answer was yes. That was more than six years ago.

Ever since, Maggie visits Ephrata Manor every Tuesday, spending time with residents, who light up when they see the Black Lab. She works with residents in nursing care, as well as patients with dementia and Alzheimers. She is also a special friend to residents who are lonely or missing the pets they once had.

"I think just petting a dog like Maggie makes you feel content and at peace," says Ulrich.

That doesn’t mean that Maggie doesn’t know how to have fun. She dresses up in costumes for Halloween, like Little Bo Peep and Minnie Mouse. She has been a pirate for a treasure hunt, a hula girl for a luau, a jester for the Renaissance Faire and a colorful mask for the Mardi Gras.

"Maggie is the most tolerant dog ever," says Ulrich. "She is so good-natured."

Maggie also visits schools. Once she was introduced to a little girl who was blind and terrified of dogs. The little girl was able to touch Maggie from top to tail, and thanks to Maggie’s gentleness, the little girl announced that she was no longer afraid of dogs. She told Maggie that she loved her, and read to her from her Braille book.

Maggie loves to have children read to her. She is a therapy dog at the Lititz Public Library, where children in the PAWS to Read program read to their canine buddies. It’s a great way for children to feel comfortable reading aloud without judgment from others. Maggie is always happy to hear a story.

"Often the children let her pick out the book, usually about animals," says Ulrich, adding that Maggie also helps out at Schreiber Pediatric, Hempfield Alternative School, Fulton Elementary Assisted Learning Class and various mental health organizations.

At nine years old, Maggie is getting older and has some issues with hip and knee dysplasia. But she has no plans to slow down. It’s important for her to visit her people every week, bringing love and smiles to all.

"It has been an amazing journey from a cardboard box throwaway, to becoming an angel on a leash," says Ulrich. "That’s our Maggie."

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