Judge looks like a baby black bear and drools like Hooch. One or two days a week, this 180-pound behemoth goes to work spreading his own special brand of therapy to the unsure, the hurting and the withdrawn.
Judge is a full-blooded Newfoundland, a strikingly large working dog, with a sweet, soulful temperament.
On the day we met at a middle school in Maryville, Tennessee, Judge was visiting 8th graders studying Jack London’s Call of the Wild. His mission was simple: Be himself. These kids hadn’t met a Newfie—the same breed as Curly in the novel—and their teachers thought they should meet one in the flesh.
As soon as Judge trudged into the classroom, panting heavily due to the heat, the students sat up in at their desks. Their eyes lit up. They gushed.
“Wow. Is that a bear?”
“He’s so cute.”
“Well, he just made my day.”
Just another day in the life of Judge.
Therapy Vs Service Dogs
Unlike service dogs trained to work or perform tasks for their owners, therapy dogs, like Judge, provide psychological or physiological therapy to anyone needing comfort.
Although this gentle giant knows how to execute a water rescue and pull carts—two jobs the breed is known for—his special talent lies in therapy, which is good. His owner, Beth Boring, works for the Maryville Public School System’s special-education department, and helping special-needs students is her passion.
Since getting his certification as a therapy dog, signified by the red bandana Beth fastens around his large neck, Judge has visited nursing homes, cancer-treatment centers, and schools.
“He’s so easy around children,” Beth said. “I love that he’s a pet, but he’s really more than that.”
Judge and His Therapy
Repeatedly, Judge has proven his ability to embolden the withdrawn. With one hand on a book and the other on Judge, low-level readers will lose their insecurities as they confidently read aloud. “A dog doesn’t ask questions or correct mistakes,” Beth explained.
One student, an autistic girl named Khloe, also benefited from her therapeutic time with Judge, she added.
“If her teachers got a one-word answer from her, they felt like they’d accomplished something,” said Beth, who is now writing a book about the experience when not training her Newfie puppy, Rowdy, or taking Judge out to minister to others.
“When Khloe met Judge, she became a chatterbox. She’d give him commands to sit, stand, speak, you know, basic obedience, and he’d obey. He opened a whole new world for her. It empowered her.”
An especially poignant moment happened at a local nursing home once, Beth recalled. When she and Judge arrived, Beth found an elderly woman sitting in her wheelchair alone in her room, staring blankly at a television set. Beth tried talking to her twice, but she didn’t respond.
“I turned and walked away. When I got to the doorway, it occurred to me I hadn’t given Judge a chance to interact. I did something I’ve never done before,” she said. “I took the chance of something going horribly wrong and lifted her hand and placed it on Judge’s head. This is Judge. He wants you to know he loves you.”
A smile of pure joy spread across the woman’s face as tears started flowing. Beth never saw the woman again, but she’ll never forget the experience. “I couldn’t reach her, but Judge did.”
Back at School
After his initial howdy-do in the classroom, Beth escorted Judge to the corridor. He plopped down on the floor and rested his face on his paws. Saliva dripped from his mouth as students took turns petting his thick fur. Beth stood to the side and fielded questions.
“How much does he eat?
Four cups a day.
“What does he eat?
Green beans and meat. Pizza is his favorite, given only as a treat. As for kibble, not a chance. “Kibble is the chicken nuggets of the dog food world.” Beth was emphatic on that point.
“How long does it take to dry his hair?”
One hour with a special hair dryer.
“Where does he sleep?”
In the hallway in front of his fan.
And on it went. When the time came to meet the next class, Beth urged Judge to stand. He obeyed and lumbered over to the next classroom door.
Why do you do this Beth?
“Newfies aren’t a common breed,” she said. “They aren’t for everyone. They shed and they drool, but we love them. And I get to share him with the world. When I put his red bandana on, he knows what he’s going to do.”