Bonita Springs — Connemara is a county in Ireland, but for children reading at Veterans Memorial Elementary and patients at Hope Hospice in Bonita Springs, Connemara is a furry friend who gives unconditional attention and love to those who need it most. Connemara, a 10- year-old golden retriever, is a therapy dog of the highest breeding. Before her official retirement and adoption by Leona Fagan of Bonita Springs, Connemara was trained with a family as a potential seeing-eye dog but became a breeding dog for New Jersey Seeing Eye Dogs instead.
“Potential seeing-eye dog puppies are raised by families until they are determined to have the right traits to further their training,” explained Fagan. “Often it’s a youth 4-H project, a good experience in responsibility and unconditional love for the young people involved.”
Fagan, a volunteer at the training facility, fell in love with the retired Connemara and took her home. The family moved to Bonita Springs in 2010.
The two retirees formed a bond that led them both through training and certification procedures that were, at times, intense for both!
“The most stringent program was Reading Paws. I received 10 hours of training and a written test as her trainer!” said Fagan.
Part of Connemara’s certification is the ability to sit, stay and wait without being distracted. The real proof of her merit, however, is watching the children who enter the room next to the media center, one at a time, to read to Connemara.
“Research has shown that children with reading difficulties do better when they read to a non-judgmental audience,” explained Fagan. “That’s Connemara. It’s a real hoot to see kids respond to her — and improve their skills.”
Connemara offers her paw to each child who enters and then settles down for an enlightening experience. Before each weekly session, Connemara’s fur receives an anti-dander spray as part of the criteria for Reading Paws. As a former teacher, this partnership is a natural for Fagan.
Connemara is also certified by Intermountain Therapy Dogs. After a day’s work with Reading Paws, Fagan and Connemara spend quality time with patients at Hope Hospice of Bonita Springs where the chance to pet Connemara and share experiences about their own pets is soothing. Connemara loves attention.
“She is an equal opportunity lover,” says Fagan. “Anyone who pays attention will receive Connemara’s devotion. She knows if a person is afraid or not interested and stays back unless she is wanted. She is close to a few of the staff members; her visits provide a soothing break in their routine also.”
Her temperament is quiet; she only barks when playing or responding to stimulus. Her behavior is impeccable.
This duo spends their retirement sharing love with children and adults through the wonderful disposition of this special golden retriever.
Fagan adds, “She really knows how to work a room to get the attention she seeks and give the unconditional love in return.”
Her original name was Velvet; but Fagan’s spouse said with a sense of humor, “I don’t want a lounge singer,” and thus the name was changed to a favorite place they visited together.