Full-time therapy canine brings joy to Indiana’s Veterans Home

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A special canine is working to bring joy to one of the last places you might expect it.

Indiana’s Veterans Home is a long-term care facility for our nation’s heroes. It was originally created to care for Civil War veterans and welcomed its first resident in 1896. Eventually, the campus evolved. It now offers independent living, short-term rehabilitative care, a nursing home and a dedicated memory unit for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. It is dedicated to honorably discharged veterans and their spouses.

In 2017, Ultimate Canine asked the home whether it would be interested in a therapy dog. The administration was willing to test it out, so they took on a dog named Sonny.

Immediately, the residents fell for the bright-eyed yellow Labrador.

“It’s great for the residents because it makes them reflect back when they had a dog,” IVH Superintendent Linda Sharp said.

IVH couldn't turn down the opportunity, but because Sonny was meant for breeding, Ultimate Canine took him back and offered IVH their first pick of a new litter. In July 2017, Sharp met the facility’s new therapy canine for the first time.

“They had three puppies that qualified for therapy dogs - two males and her - and of course she was the most loving,” Sharp remembers. “She was the pick of the litter.”

As soon as Sharp picked out their new full-time friend, the IVH staff held a gender-reveal party for their 190 residents. The veterans that live there also got to pick out the dog’s name.

Liberty began her full-time assignment about six months later. Four handlers are certified to work with her, taking the dog on rounds two times a day, every day. The organization thinks she is now the only full-time therapy dog statewide.

“She keeps us busy, she is a lot of fun,” Sharp laughed. “They’re like, ‘Oh, I needed to see you today,' ‘I’m so glad you came to see me today.’”

CBS4 did a tour with Libby to see what it was like. Each time a resident saw her, his or her face lit up with a huge smile.

“Hi, pretty lady,” they would say. “She’s a good girl,” others would say.

Navy veteran Kenneth Westerhausen was one of the more entertaining residents that spoke on camera.

“Animals are great for cheering people up,” he said. “If you’ve ever had a dog when you were small or something, even a cat. But I don’t like to talk about cats because Libby doesn’t like cats.”

Westerhausen keeps a photo of Libby on his door.

“It’s hard to have a bad day when Libby is around,” he added.

“Every time I see the dog, it makes me feel good,” Army veteran Nap Mushegan told CBS4. “Every time she comes in, she’s happy. She’s more human than she is dog.”

Mushegan said Libby can sense when someone is not feeling well. Her handlers agree. Sharp remembered a recent patient that was sick. Liberty wouldn’t pass his room without going in and saying hello.

“She wasn’t budging because she knew something was wrong. She kept trying to get her nose under his hand,” Sharp said.

Libby recently celebrated her first birthday. IVH held a party for her and allowed Sonny to visit as well. Residents got to celebrate, too, with cake.

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