Smart. Gentle. Joyful. Calm. Cute. Penny checks all the boxes. It’s as if the 8-year-old, copper- colored Goldendoodle was destined to be a therapy dog.
“Penny is amazing,” says Becky Harral of Redding. “She does all the work. She just loves on people. They are drawn to her.”
Becky and Penny have been a volunteer team with Prescription Pets Therapy Dogs since 2012, completing the requirements when Penny was only 11 months old.
“She took to it immediately,” Becky says.
They visit assisted-living facilities, Mercy Medical Center and Veterans Home of California - Redding. They’ve also spent time on the campuses of Shasta College and Simpson University to ease college students’ jitters during finals weeks. And they offered a calming presence in the aftermath of Redding’s devastating Carr Fire in 2018. Prescription Pets teams participated in Carr Fire community relief centers at Shasta College and Shasta High School. Becky recalls fire survivors sharing their experiences as they stroked Penny.
“If your hands are doing something, it unlocks something in your brain. It releases that,” she says.
Penny looks forward to therapy visits, Becky says. “As soon as I put that scarf on, it’s like: ‘Time to work.’”
Becky recalls a special visit at an assisted-living facility where a woman “was sitting in a wheelchair kind of slumped over, not really paying attention at all.” Becky spoke softly to her and gently placed the woman’s hand on Penny. Her eyes opened and her mood brightened as she took notice of the fluffy, friendly Goldendoodle in front of her.
Penny likes being petted and puts her head on laps. Her tail never stops wagging. She’s also happy to do a trick or two, such as “show us your tummy” or enthusiastically charging through the fabric tunnel. She is fully engaged during each visit.
“When she gets home, she takes a nap,” Becky notes.
Becky and her husband, Carl, own Trutta Erosion Control, a stormwater monitoring business. She retired from her job as administrative assistant with the Redding Fire Department seven years ago. Carl worked for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife for 32 years.
The Harrals have three grown children and babysit their three grandsons, ages 2, 5, and 9, twice a week. Penny is enthusiastic about that adventure too.
“She has always had a baby climbing on her,” Becky notes.
Penny joined the family as a 10-week-old puppy. Even then she had calm demeanor, Becky recalls. A year ago the Harrals got a second dog, Billie Jean, a sheep-a-doodle (cross between an English sheepdog and poodle). Penny has been welcoming and patient with the inquisitive and energetic Billie Jean. The Harral home also includes five chickens.
“Penny gives them high respect,” Becky says. “The chickens rule the roost.”
Becky was drawn to Prescription Pets because she liked the idea of doing for others. What has surprised her is how the visits benefit her.
“This program is more than I ever thought it would be,” she says. “It really, really blesses me.”
Becky has a heart for helping. She volunteers for other events in the community and is a regular helper in the church nursery at The Stirring.
Inspired by an article in Reader’s Digest, Becky and Carl took a seven-week, cross-country trek in 2013 they dubbed Our Make a Difference Trip. They volunteered at a dog shelter, visited care facilities, helped the Salvation Army and found many other ways to assist others.
“Every day we set out and said, ‘Where can we serve?’”
Penny was part of the action too, often a furry conversation-starter at rest stops where she connected to people who might be in need of prayers or have a story to share, according to Becky.