2017-03-02 / News

Town dog stars as breed ambassador in Big Apple

BY RYAN GIBBS


Dolce, far right, with owners Daniel and Patricia Sumner at the American Kennel Club’s showcase of breeds in New York City. Their booth represents the Leonberger’s German heritage. Dolce, far right, with owners Daniel and Patricia Sumner at the American Kennel Club’s showcase of breeds in New York City. Their booth represents the Leonberger’s German heritage. Just days before the world’s most prestigious dog show a few weeks ago, a four-legged traveler from Jamestown strutted its stuff along the Hudson River in midtown Manhattan alongside its relatives.

As part of the weeklong festivities leading to the Westminster Kennel Club’s trumpeted gala, the American Kennel Club invited dogs from across the country to meet other members of their breed. Among the canines was Dolce, a 125-pound Leonberger owned by Wright Lane’s Pat Sumner. The rare breed, nicknamed Gentle Lion, boasted eight dogs at the showcase.

“It’s a nice way for people to get to know the breed face-to-face,” said Sumner, who, along with the other Leonberger owners, donned a T-shirt with the breed’s likeness and name sprawled across the front. “It’s a nice experience. No matter where you went, everybody smiled.”

Each breed had its own booth, Sumner said, but the Leonberger’s spot is relatively new. Before 2010, there was no booth for the breed because the American Kennel Club did not recognize it. For the last seven years, however, Leonberger owners have been publicizing the breed’s history and crowing about its attributes as a house pet. Their booth this year was decorated to match the breed’s German origin.

“This gives the average person an opportunity to see all the breeds and talk to owners to see if that’s the dog for them,” said Sumner, who handed children greeting cards with Dolce’s picture and information.

According to Sumner, the Leonberger originated in Germany during the 19th century and is a cross between the St. Bernard, Greek Pyrenees and Newfoundland breeds. It is named for the city in the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg. The Leonberger is a mountain dog with a muscular body, dramatic presence and prominent black mask. Those distinctions, breeders say, articulate the dog’s pride, intelligence and gentle nature.

Sumner volunteered to man the booth through the Northeast chapter of the Leonberger Club of America. It wasn’t a chore, however. She said Dolce enjoyed her time in the spotlight.

“She loved it,” Sumner said. “Kids laid on top of her, hugged her and brushed her. It was kind of a neat experience.”

Dolce’s good behavior was no fluke; she is certified through Therapy Dogs International, and has completed the American Kennel Club’s obedience program.

Since being certified as a therapy dog when she was 2, Sumner has taken Dolce to schools and retirement homes. She’s been giving comfort to children and seniors for nearly three years.

“She’s been in counseling sessions where she goes from person to person,” Sumner said. “I think she can sense that a person is upset because she’ll go over to a person and give them a nudge, or she’ll just sit there and let them pet her for a minute.”

Sumner brought Dolce home about five years ago when the puppy was eight weeks old. She thought of the name during her son’s wedding in Italy. “Dolce” is short for “la dolce vita,” which means “the good life” in English.

Sumner explained the difference between therapy dogs and service dogs, which aid disabled people.

“Therapy dogs are strictly tactile feel-good dogs,” she said. “They may do a few tricks, but they are not trained to do the heavy work of a service dog.”

Sumner said she originally became involved with therapy animals after she adopted a St. Bernard in 2001, a few days before the Sept. 11 attacks. One of her friends doing therapy work in a South Attleboro school suggested Sumner introduce her dog to the students.

“I was so taken with the reaction of the kids and how well they responded,” she said.

Watching her St. Bernard sit calmly as 80 children hugged him, Sumner knew her next dog would follow in his footsteps. That was made clear in New York City last month.

“It accomplished what it was supposed to do, which is let people experience the animals and have a little bit of therapy,” she said. “We did that for a lot of people by letting them touch the dogs.”

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