By DIANE R. CHODAN
OBSERVER Staff Writer
SHERIDAN - Baxter is a good citizen and he has a document to prove it.
Jeanne Pecoraro, a resident at St Columban's, takes a minute to pet Baxter who is resting in the hall.
The registered golden retriever, whose registered name is Saffire's Bulk Mail, has lived at St. Columban's on the Lake Retirement Home since 2010. Kimberly Stewart, the business manager and, as she calls herself, "dog caretaker" took Baxter to an American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen class.
The class requires the owner of the dog commit to responsible dog ownership, and the dog to pass ten specific tests of behavior. One item tested is walking through a crowd. The dog walks with the handler close to several people. The dog may show casual interest but may not jump up. Another test requires the dog not to panic or show aggression when faced with distractions.
The dog must also sit politely for petting without showing shyness or resentment.
All of these characteristics are important for a dog who lives in a home for senior residents. Beside the need to be careful with folks who might be using a walker, a cane, a wheelchair, or just move more slowly, Baxter has to deal with visitors of all ages, including children.
"Baxter is a gentle laid back dog," said Stewart. He exhibited those traits when St. Columban's first got him, but the training brought them out even more.
"The presence of a dog makes the residents feel good. They find comfort in his company. Petting a dog comforts them," she said.
Some studies have shown pet ownership has a positive effect on both the physical and mental well-being of people, actually lowering blood pressure and lessening anxiety and depression. Even the temporary companionship of trained therapy dogs can be beneficial.
While Baxter could have taken training as a therapy dog, it is Stewart's judgment that he didn't need it. "He adjusted so well," she said.
Watching Baxter interact with residents, staff, and visitors is an amazing experience. He often walks calmly over to visitors who enter the home. There is no excitement or jumping. Residents smile when they see him walking the halls. He may lay down next to a resident sitting in a common area of the house. He seems to know his job is to make people smile. At times he seems to smile. He accepts attention willingly, but does not demand it.
BAXTER'S EARLY LIFE
Sheree Melhuish of Bradenton, Fla. breeds golden retrievers and has great love for the breed as a whole as well as for her individual dogs. Baxter is one of her dogs and she was happy to talk about him.
"I believe a higher power was at work with Baxter to bring him to where he is now," she said.
Baxter was born on March 10, 2007. Even the circumstances surrounding his birth were somewhat unusual.
His dam (mother) is Melhuish's dog, Saffire's Gentlemen Puffer Blondz whose call name is Satin. His sire (father) is an American Canadian Champion, Kalar's Four Paw Drive, whose call name is Durango.
Since Durango lives in British Columbia and Satin in Florida, chilled semen was sent by Federal Express from British Columbia so that Satin could be bred.
The package didn't arrive due to an ice storm. Melhuish called Durango's breeders and asked for another shipment. Because of the storm, they could not get out to ship another package.
The package arrived three days after being sent. As Melhuish explained, "When breeding, timing is critical." Even though the package was late, she decided to have Satin bred and Satin did become pregnant.
The delay of the package led to Baxter's formal name, Saffire's Bulk Mail. Melhuish explained that puppies of a litter are named based on a theme. Because of the late package, a postal theme was selected. Slick, one of Baxter's brothers and a successful show dog, is called Saffire's BlackMail.
Satin had to have an emergency C-section. Nine out of ten puppies survived.
During their early life, the puppies are evaluated by Melhuish. Not all dogs can be show dogs. There is an ideal type for show dogs which varies from breed to breed.
"Out of a litter of 10 puppies, you might get two show dogs. If you get three, it's like hitting a jackpot," she said.
For golden retrievers, there are other paths in life. Originally, bred as a hunting dogs, they can be used for that purpose and Melhuish introduces them to the water and retrieving at an early age. Some also make excellent guide dogs or therapy dogs. Others are wonderful companion dogs for an individual or family.
It is not easy to buy a puppy from Melhuish. The first step is an application. Next, she interviews the prospective buyer. The buyer has to sign a strict five-page sales contract. Spaying or neutering is required at the appropriate age. Another clause specifies that if for any reason the owner doesn't want or can't keep the dog, the dog goes back to her to evaluate the situation and find a proper home.
Baxter was classified as a companion dog.
"He went to a lovely couple with a 6-year-old little girl. There was another dog and a cat. It was a wonderful home," Melhuish said.
When Baxter was about 3 and a half, his life changed.
Melhuish said that she had never had a dog returned before. But it happened to Baxter. The couple was getting a divorce and ultimately the wife could not keep the dog.
Before the transfer was made, Melhuish was able to work with Baxter and get to know him during the day for five days while the woman worked.
"He had no concept of a lead," said Melhuish. "But he was receptive to attention and learned."
The first day, she took him to a cemetery, an outdoor place without a lot of people. It was peaceful there and they spent time just sitting. The following days, she took him to Pet Smart, the Home Depot, and a grocery store - experiences geared to test his temperament. She took him for a long car ride and took him to a dog park to see how he would react to other dogs. He adapted well and learned.
Melhuish posted about Baxter on a forum for breeders and owners of golden retrievers, searching for a new home for him.
A SPECIAL PLACE FOR A SPECIAL DOG
St. Columban's has had a resident dog for years. It makes the home even more homelike. Before Baxter came to the home, another golden retriever named Buddy lived there. Buddy died of old age in 2009 and the home went without a dog for several months.
Staff turned to Barb Tompsett in an effort to find another dog. Tompsett volunteers at St. Columban's. She also breeds golden retrievers and one of her dogs, Abby, lived at St. Columban's. She didn't have any dogs, but promised to look into the matter.
Tompsett saw the Melhuish's posting and replied.
Melhuish said, "I prayed so hard and I kept coming back to Barb's posting."
The two spoke on the phone about Baxter. Tompsett thought that Baxter showed all signs of being a good fit. Melhuish decided to give the dog to St. Columban's, a generous gift. Melhuish shrugs it off.
"Why wouldn't I?" she asked. After Baxter she would be willing to donate another dog.
Arrangements were made for Baxter's trip from Florida to Silver Creek. Tompsett and Jackie Grant, her friend and fellow volunteer at St. Columban's, drove south with a young female retriever, Song. A day later, Melhuish with Baxter and a five-month-old dog began traveling north. The two parties met in Columbia, S.C.
Stewart said, "Their hearts are as gold as Baxter's fur."
Stewart said Baxter settled in well. He and the resident cat adapted to each other. He often follows Stewart around, listens attentively to her quiet voice and comes when she calls. She makes sure he gets walks.
He does, however, have some bad habits. The residents, even though they know they shouldn't, sometimes give Baxter treats which he accepts. He has been known to find and eat food if residents don't securely close the door to their quarters. Because he has a weight problem, the veterinarians at Fredonia Animal Hospital have him on special diet food.
"They take very good care of him," said Stewart. They call his weight problem "an occupational hazard."
Baxter, as a retriever, naturally enjoys the outdoors and the water. "He gets excited when he sees the ducks on the lake,"said Stewart, "and sometimes he likes to take a dip in the lake." When he comes back from his adventure, he is so smelly that Stewart has to give him a bath. Stewart evidently takes this in stride, since she laughs about it.
Melhuish is delighted that Baxter found a good home. She is also very proud of him. She is hoping she can come to visit him and see him at work.
"I have had champion dogs, but I'm more proud of Baxter," she said. "He does something important every day, and gives. He found his true calling."
And St. Columban's definitely stuck gold when they adopted Baxter.
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