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Golden retriever pays 1,000th visit as therapy dog

Dan Brown his favorite companiDakotcelebrate Saturday Jennings Nursing Home honor Dakota's 1000 visits nursing homes hospitals.   |

Dan Brown and his favorite companion Dakota celebrate Saturday at the Jennings Nursing Home in honor of Dakota's 1,000 visits to nursing homes and hospitals. | David Sharos~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 13, 2014 6:15AM

Old-timers will remember classic television shows featuring the heroics of dogs like “Lassie” and “Rin Tin Tin” whose exploits ranged from dragging people from burning buildings to saving other animals’ lives.

But Saturday, at the Jennings Nursing Home in Aurora, a modern-day canine hero was celebrated for her service to others. Dakota Sioux, a 7 ½-year-old golden retriever, reached a milestone 1,000 visits as a certified therapy dog.

Owner Danny Brown, of Boulder Hill, says Dakota Sioux has been the light of his life and that of so many others. A newspaper article in 2009 was where he got the idea to train her as a therapy dog. Then he learned about the Delta Society, a national therapy group, and the pair started taking classes.

“I learned about the satisfaction dogs can bring to disabled people and those in nursing homes and hospitals,” he said. “Dakota enjoys it, and I enjoy seeing how people react to her.”

Saturday’s reception at the Jennings facility included some cake and punch and about 30 guests. Activity director Mary Ann Fletcher said Dakota Sioux already has been recognized by the Delta Society as the “Therapy Dog of the Year” and that she is also active in the Fox Valley Therapy Dog Club, Fox Valley Volunteer Hospice and the Ronald McDonald House.

“People here love dogs, and there is a communication beyond words that dogs can have with them,” Fletcher said. “She’s been coming here for three years, and patients are more alert and in a better frame of mind after she leaves. She likes to put her front paws up on them and have them pet her. Both the dog and the patients get love.”

Regina Davis, who has worked at Jennings for 14 years as a nurse, said that Dakota “is the best medicine around.” “There are people here (who) never smile until she comes,” Davis said.

Residents at Jennings awaited their best friend while holding cards that spelled out Dakota’s name.

“I love seeing her here,” said Aurora resident Marilyn Green. “My son takes care of the dog I had at home, and she’s my dog here. She’s one of the family.”

Rose Vaupel, who has lived at the Jennings home for two years with her husband, said he received a picture of Dakota for Father’s Day a year ago.

“My husband and I both grew up on farms where we each had dogs, and now we still have one, even though we don’t live in the country anymore,” she said. “We look forward to these visits.”

Brown said that Dakota also has been named the mascot for the American Legion Riders, a motorcycle group that escorts returning military veterans once they return home. Brown, who is a member of the group, said his dog was made a member and even wears her own military vest adorned with patches.

“She’s my co-pilot,” Brown said with admiration. “Whenever we go out, she knows when it comes time to visit the hospitals and the nursing homes. She knows her way around the rooms and where the dog treats are at all the nurses’ stations. Dakota makes herself right at home.”

Dakota’s visit Saturday was the 193rd at the Jennings facility, but she wasn’t the only one recognized. Brown was given a plaque from the American Legion recognizing his efforts. With a few tears in his eyes, Brown humbly said he’s only along for the ride.

“I’m just the handler,” he said. “Dakota is the whole show.”

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