How Honey, a committed therapy dog, helps residents and others in Rockford

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Pet owners know that their pets play a special role in their lives, however, they may be less aware of the invaluable role those animals also bring to others. For David McClenthen and his wife Tara, their dog Honey, has become a light in many different people’s lives, within Embrace Living Communities and beyond.

Read our interview with David to learn more about Honey’s extraordinary impact on their lives and others.

How long have you been affiliated with Embrace Living Communities, and how did you become introduced to the organization?

In December it will have been 11 years. At the time I started, my brother Jason and his wife Jennifer, were actually living at the facility I now work at, Loves Park. And, one day on phone conversation, Jason told me he happened to know the maintenance department was looking for somebody. I was kinda in between jobs, so I pursued that and it ended up working out. It’s just been a really good fit and a blessing to be there.


How old is Honey? How did she get her name?

David: She is now about 8 ½ years old. We brought her home without a name. The original name I’d thought of was Lacey because as soon as we got her home she started chewing on my shoelaces. It was probably the next day that I took Honey with me to pick Tara up from work and on the way there I was talking to Honey and realized I kept calling her by that name as I was talking to her. So, Tara and I talked about that and realized the name fit her color so well and just seemed to fit her personality well too. She just was a Honey.


What is Honey’s personality like?

Honey’s personality is full of life. She’s a very high-energy, young dog. She’s a “happy as long as it’s all about her” kind of dog. She eats up attention. She’s very good with children, very good with elderly people. We had talked about doing therapy dog work with her for years, but it didn’t start until she was six because she was just so full of energy and we wanted to let her grow up on her own, without trying to train the dog out of her. Tara was a good disciplinarian with Honey. I wasn’t because I’m the “off leash” person. She gets to have fun and be a dog with me. So, I had to learn how to be more disciplined in handling Honey, I just took a couple classes and that all worked out good.  


What was the process like of Honey becoming a therapy dog?

At six years old we felt like she was ready. Up until then, we were taking her all over the place, but she wasn’t a therapy dog yet because she wasn’t certified and registered. We got Honey evaluated with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a national organization, and she just flew right through that, she was a natural. So that opened up the door for us to start going to Mercy Hospital and Northern Illinois Hospice and doing more organized work with her. One of the themes at Alliance is bringing joy and smiles to people, and my goodness, have we seen that over the years.  

There are many, but can you just share a few of your experiences visiting other organizations with Honey?

At Mercy Hospital, the pediatrics unit is always fun. We had one little girl who decided Honey needed a physical. So, she used her little doctor’s kit with a thermometer, stethoscope, blood pressure taker… she looked in Honey’s ears, her mouth. She just gave her the works and Honey just stood there and let this little girl do whatever she wanted to do with her. That was probably one of the most precious visits we’ve had from the pediatrics unit.

We’ve been on a lot of hospice visits, and gone on a lot of visits to the Alzheimer’s unit. We usually go to see one person and end up seeing numerous people and everyone always reacts differently. It’s just quite interesting to watch people respond, how deep they can be into themselves and how Honey can pull them out of it and get them involved in something other than the pain of whatever they’re going through that’s so hard for them. Most of the time it’s fun, we go up there expecting it to be fun and enjoyable. It’s very rewarding, but it can get very serious, a lot of tears, a lot of emotion, and Honey does well with that.

We take Honey to Home Depot. And, what we’ve found is that everybody is broken, hurting, dealing with something, you don’t have to be on hospice or a hospital to really benefit from a dog visit. Just being at Home Depot and seeing a dog that’s loving and that you can relate to, so many people appreciate seeing her there. 

Do you have any specific stories about Honey’s interactions with the residents at Embrace Living Communities?

We’ve been going to Loves Park with Honey since she was 7 weeks old, so some of the residents have known Honey all of her life. It’s just been a real fun relationship for them to be a part of our life through her. She’s helped bring a closer bond with some of the residents. We had one resident, Jenny, who used to love to let Honey lick her feet. In therapy dog work, this is a big no-no (and at the hospital we wouldn’t allow it), but depending on the environment we can sometimes let Honey do things like that. Jenny just got the biggest kick out of it. Jenny also wanted to make Honey the official mascot of our Loves Park community. Eventually, Honey officially became their building mascot, which was something fun that they enjoyed.


How do you think Honey makes residents and other people feel?

I believe God is love and we’re created in his image to be loving human beings. One of the huge things I’ve seen over the years is that Honey can come in and and bring love to people no matter what kind of trauma they’ve had in their life.  Not only does she bring love to them, but she also allows them to express love to her, and that is so important for so many people who don’t have much of an opportunity to do that. It does so much good for people to just be able to express love to another breathing, living being.

Do you have words of encouragement for those who are considering the therapy dog process?

It is a commitment, you have to be devoted to it, but you will never regret doing it. It is so rewarding and it’s worth everything that you have to put into it. It becomes- I can’t say effortless- after a while, but it is something that you really look forward to doing and that you’re very glad you got involved in.