Harley Goodwin is proof heroes come in all sizes.
Weighing in at 105.8 pounds, the yellow Labrador is more couch potato than race horse. But, his love for people knows no bounds.
For the past six years the certified therapy pet has been a regular fixture at schools, nursing homes and the public library in Alameda. Soothing the elderly, calming the classroom and boosting children’s reading scores, he is recognized widely, developing what could only be described as a “celebrity” following.
“He is definitely missed if he is absent from class one week,” says his owner Lisa Gallagher Goodwin, a fifth grade teacher at . He is so popular, in fact, his photo hangs in the school office and students shower him with presents.
This year one Lum parent presented him with a handmade lei for graduation fashioned out of – what else – dog biscuits. (He is not the only therapy pet at the school, however. A third-grade teacher has two long-haired dachshunds and another teacher, since retired, also brought a dog to school.)
Harley, who will turn seven (in people years) on July 21, became a certified therapy pet through TherapyPets.org at the age of one. Since then he has “assisted” once a week in his owner’s classroom and has participated in Paws to Read each Tuesday at the Alameda Public Library. Since the Island's Paws to Read program is on hiatus this summer, Harley has offered his services to the Lakeview Public Library in Oakland to keep his “listening skills” sharp.
“The kids love to read to the dogs,” says Goodwin, noting, “At the Alameda library there are usually between four and six therapy canines on hand to listen to the elementary school-aged children read. The dogs often drape themselves over the children’s laps soaking up the attention. Harley is sometimes so relaxed from all the petting, acknowledges his owner, he falls asleep.
Goodwin says one child in the Paws to Read program at the library, who also happens to attend Lum, went from being an “at risk” to “proficient” reader. An autistic child in the program has begun communicating more and expressing a love for dogs. One student even wrote an entire journal about Harley and his adventures.
To become certified as a therapy pet Harley underwent rigorous training by his owners and took Sirius Puppy Training Classes through Citizen Canine. He had to master (and still practices) various commands. In addition to needing a medical clearance from his veterinarian, he had his temperament tested by a screener sent to his home by Therapy Pets.org. He is also registered with the city of Alameda as a service animal.
“He is just a very calm dog,” says Goodwin, who says he comes by it naturally. Harley was part of a litter of 11 and came from a breeder that places Labradors bred for their gentle temperaments into the homes of families. His mother was accustomed to children. His father was a working service dog and companion to a man who used a wheelchair.
When he is not visiting nursing homes like Water’s Edge or Bay View where patients lavish him with hugs and regale him with tales of their own dogs, he is keeping fit with daily runs and frequent swimming excursions at Lake Anza and other local watering holes. His real “down time” comes each summer when he joins his family on a two-week camping trip to Pinecrest where he spends more time in the water, than out of it.
He also enjoys hanging with fellow pet therapy pooches when they hold meet-ups at local dog friendly spots where they engage in relay races and judging homemade dog-biscuit baking contests.
What's next on Harley's busy agenda? Goodwin says Harley may launch his own Facebook page where he can opine about his tail-wagging exploits and could even write a book one day.
For the immediate future, Goodwin says, Harley will spend the 4th of July, lying in the shade, at the corner of Grand and Otis with his family watching the Alameda Mayor’s Annual 4th of July Parade. “He’ll be there wearing his red, white and blue scarf,” says Goodwin, "and if he’s in the mood for it – his Uncle Sam hat.”
Fitting attire, indeed, for a hometown hero.