Meet Eli the Belgian Sheepdog: Therapy Dog and Canine HumanitarianPublished October 26, 2011
Courtesy of Sherry Hanley
Can a canine be a humanitarian?
Eli the Belgian Sheepdog has shown that the term humanitarian doesn't just apply to humans; it can be applied to man's best friend as well. Recognized and awarded for the work he did in a variety of roles at Ground Zero and his work as a therapy dog, as well as highly decorated for his showmanship in the world of dog shows, Eli has been named the Therapy Dog Ambassador for the 2011 National Dog Show Presented by Purina.
With the show approaching, Petside had the chance to catch up with Eli's handler, Sherry Hanley, and talk about the title of Therapy Dog Ambassador, Eli's life and the upcoming show.
Petside: Therapy Dog Ambassador--what does it mean, both literally and to you?
Sherry Hanley: So ambassador pretty much means what Eli's calling was after retirement from the dog show ring. He's had all of these titles and accolades for his career in the ring, but what he is outside of the ring is a therapy dog. It is a title that truly shows he's more than just a show dog, but that he is really an all-around canine member of society.
Petside: What inspired you to have Eli certified as a therapy dog?
Hanley: For me, the whole process of having Eli certified as a therapy dog really started when I first heard what they did. I thought that it would be nice to do something for others. As a Sheriff's Deputy, therapy dogs could play a role in my line of work. I heard the AKC offered the test for certification, and I just did it.
Petside: Eli's experience as a therapy dog had him involved in a variety of roles surrounding 9/11. How did the experience of responding to 9/11 affect both you and Eli?
Hanley: The experience of 9/11 was one that really showed me that Eli was just a natural, and that being a therapy dog was his true calling.
I remember one specific incident where a responder came back and encountered Eli and I as we were out for a walk. He began to just talk about his experience at Ground Zero, and the whole time he was just petting Eli. For near an hour, I didn't say a word. He just talked and talked, and continued to pet Eli. He then thanked me for having the dog there, and for listening to his story.
It was at that moment that I noticed that the dogs made a difference. Their presence just worked to calm those around them. For me, it was an example of why Eli received the certification to be a therapy dog.
Petside: Eli went on to compete in many dog shows. How have dog shows enriched both yours and Eli's lives?
Hanley: Becoming involved in dog shows (and, mind you, Eli was my first show dog--until that time I was not involved in dog shows at all) has presented me and Eli so many opportunities. We've met so many wonderful people through dog shows. Really, the people, the dogs you meet--it is life-changing.
Petside: It's shown on Thanksgiving Day right after the Macy's Parade, and is fast becoming a holiday tradition. What specifically makes a show like the 2011 National Dog Show Presented by Purina so special?
Hanley: Honestly, it's the prestige of the show. When you think of this show, you think of glitz, glamor. It really is sort of like Westminster in that regard. People choose new outfits for this show. I mean, really--it's David Frei, John O'Hurley--it's just so prestigious.
The other thing that makes it special (and that I don't think a lot of people see) is the fact that it's a great educational experience. It's a great way to learn about breeds, training, grooming, and a whole host of other things. It's a family event, with events for families going on all day.
It's organized and raises awareness. And it's a benched show! The dogs are tangible--if you're walking around, you can touch, meet the dogs. There's something to be said for that for sure, and part of why this show is so special.