Take Charge

Rescue Dog Once Struggling to Survive Helps Others in the Fight of Their Life

August 03, 2017

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As the double doors slide open, Lucy steps inside with her hair blowing in the wind. She wears a blue bandana and official badge as her dozens of people look her way and smile as they call her name, Lucy, with excitement. Lucy is a therapy dog at Moffitt Cancer Center. On Thursdays, she can barely contain her excitement as she enters Moffitt Cancer Center. Lucy loves the attention and royal treatment she gets from patients and team members at the hospital, but life wasn’t always so good for this 3-year-old Chiweenie (Chihuahua/dachshund mix). 

It wasn’t that long ago that Lucy sat on a cold concrete floor, scared and alone. She’d listen nervously to the jangling of keys and the familiar click as the door unlatches. She worried as muffled voices and the thud of footsteps drew near.  

As the minutes turned into hours and the hours into days, it’s almost as if Lucy knows each tick of the clock is slowly sealing her fate. Lucy was trapped inside a kennel at an animal shelter in rural Florida. Her name landed on the top of the shelter’s euthanasia list because there wasn’t enough space to take care of her. 

She peered at this new person approaching her kennel she stood up on her hind legs and frantically waved almost as if it was a last ditch effort to be rescued. She looked like she was dancing. Her performance caught the eye of Spencer Bard as he passed by. He took one look at Lucy dancing in her kennel and fell in love.

Bard is the head of Guardian Angel Dog Rescue in Tampa. He’s rescued more than 1,400 dogs and usually places them in foster homes and finds families to adopt, but he calls Lucy a foster-fail because he couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing her every day.

In addition to running the Guardian Angel Dog Rescue, Bard volunteers at Moffitt Cancer Center. In fact, he and his dog Rocco would bring joy to patients as part of the pet therapy program. Unfortunately, right around the time Bard adopted Lucy, Rocco passed away from a brain tumor. 

Bard missed volunteering and once he saw Lucy’s sweet disposition, he enrolled her in a pet therapy certification program. The training took about four months and now he and Lucy spend Thursday’s visiting patients at Moffitt. 

Moffitt psychologist Dr. Lora Thompson says cancer has a huge impact on emotional well-being. Patients often feel anxious or stressed and tend to feel more relaxed when pets come to visit. She says, "When one of our pet therapy dogs visits a patient, it really brings a source of comfort, so it can reduce anxiety, it can prevent loneliness and I think it really serves as a good distraction. Our patients are faced with stressful situations everyday-pain, other physical symptoms and when that pet shows up in your room, it really takes your mind off all of those things and really brings a sense of peace."

Lucy was a welcome sight for Alyssa. She spent a week in the hospital and missed her little Chihuahua. She squealed with delight as Lucy danced on her bed and giggled as she fed her treats.

Bard is no stranger to cancer. He lost many family members to the disease and his sister is currently battling breast cancer. Plus, he suffers from Ankylosing spondylitis, which means the discs of his spine are fused together and he is in constant pain.

He says he can’t explain the joy he feels when he sees someone light up at the sight of Lucy. He knows he can’t take all of their pain away, but it comforts him to know that for a few minutes he and Lucy were able to take their mind off cancer.

Lucy was once struggling to survive and now she brings comfort to patients in the fight of their lives.