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Therapy Dog Shadow Remembered By His Owner, Those He Helped Volunteering

Shadow wasn't in the library, but those who knew him could feel his spirit.

The black Labrador retriever, a therapy dog with the Read With A Dog program at the Tower Road branch of the Alachua County Library District, passed away Feb. 4. At twelve years old, Shadow had worked as a therapy dog for over a decade.

Barney, a 5-year-old terrier, will fill Shadow’s spot in the program after he becomes a certified and insured therapy dog later this month. Joann Alam, his owner and trainer, said this is the culmination of a year and a half of training.

A dog must go through obedience classes, supervised visits and the 10-step Canine Good Citizen test to become a certified therapy dog.

The young dog acts more like an old man. Barney sits patiently while kids play with the purple flower bandanna around his neck and show him pictures in the books they're reading. Even when a fascinated toddler grabs a chunk of his fur a bit too hard, he is only startled, not moving more than a few inches away.

Alam, 69, was also Shadow’s handler.  He became a part of her family in 2002, when he was a 6-week-old puppy. She said he had been her rock ever since.

Alam lost her mother, father and husband all around the same time. She said Shadow helped her get through it by giving her something to do: volunteering.

"He was my therapy," Alam said.

Alam had already been involved in therapy dog organizations for a few years. After Shadow's adoption, she started training him to work as a therapy dog. In 2003, he was certified to work with schoolchildren, in libraries, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and veteran hospitals, Alam said. When she moved to Florida from Colorado, she started the North Florida chapter of Love on a Leash.

“The owners of these dogs volunteer so much more than just their time," Alix Freck, a children's librarian at Alachua County libraries, wrote in an email. “Getting certified costs money, and since they are volunteers, they never get reimbursed for those costs. The people who take the time to get their animals certified truly believe in the benefits of sharing their pets' 'talents' with others.”

Lee Anne Privette said her daughter didn't like to read out loud. The pair started coming to Read With A Dog when it started at Tower Road about one year ago. There, the then-5-year-old Abby befriended Shadow.

“If him and Joann couldn’t make it, her face would drop because she was so excited to see him,” Freck said.

Shadow became Abby’s favorite dog. She even wrote letters to him.

When Abby stumbled over words, it didn't matter to Shadow. He was just happy to be there and hear the story, Privette said.

Shadow provided a judgment-free zone for Abby to practice.  Week by week, she became much more confident, and now she even volunteers to read aloud in church, she said.

Once struggling with books that had two words on each page, she now flows through pages with two or three sentences with little trouble.

“I feel like Shadow taught Abby how to read,” Privette said.

Alam, although greatly missing Shadow, has two other dogs she loves: Barney, a 5-year-old terrier and Wolly, a 10-year-old yellow lab. She said they are her support now.

“Shadow was a very special dog and always seemed to have been born to make a difference in the lives of people young and older,” Alam wrote in an email.

Freck said she was worried that Alam wouldn’t have another dog ready to fill the void Shadow left behind. But she is pleased with how well Barney has risen to the occasion.

“These dogs bring lots of joy to many people,” Freck said.

Taylor is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org