The last inductee tonight is Wilbur, a 9 year old Golden Retriever owned by Liz and Dan Downes of White River Junction, VT. Wilbur was nominated for the Vermont Animal Hall of Fame by his VVMA member veterinarian Dr. Thomas Franklin.
Wilbur is a service dog who has been working faithfully since the tender age of 7 weeks old! He works 5 days a week at the Veterans Administration Medical Center of Vermont in White River Junction where his magnetic personality and cheerful disposition brighten the day and add hope to many veterans who are seriously ill. Wilbur accomplishes more than medicine does to make the patients feel better. During his visits, he makes the patients smile when he walks through the door, makes them laugh when they pat him or nuzzle up to him and leaves them happy when he departs. Wilbur offers many a warm and fuzzy pick-me-up, even allowing those who can no longer speak a way to communicate in the simplest way, with no need for words.
Wilbur’s credentials include: Certified Therapy Dog, Canine Good Citizen and Chief of Morale. He is an integral part of the Occupational Therapy Department at the VA, and works closely with his owner, Liz, during her daily appointments. Any day of the week, one is sure to see Wilbur trotting through the halls carrying his own leash, wagging his tail and sporting a special bandanna to celebrate the day. Wilbur also brings cheer and smiles with his own “Wilbur Calendar” and yearly Holiday card.
Many serious illnesses leave patients with disabilities that make even everyday chores very difficult to achieve. That is where Occupational Therapy comes in. It involves the retraining of patients to do all the things that were simple to do before the illness. Wilbur helps by encouraging the patients to overcome their sadness, humiliation or confusion so they can begin to tackle the training they need. People lose their inhibitions around a dog; they become more engaged and willing to try things. “Wilbur” has been the first word spoken from several patients left unable to speak after a stroke.
Wilbur has been known to save a life in his own way. On one occasion, a particular patient was refusing evaluation and treatment from his doctors, nurses and therapists. A “Wilbur Consult” was placed. Wilbur immediately sensed this gentleman’s fear and anxiety. After receiving the patient’s permission, Wilbur jumped onto the bed. There was a noticeable change in the patient’s behavior. Wilbur continued to visit daily, the gentleman accepted treatment and the day he was discharged, he came and took a picture of Wilbur.
A horrendous day can be turned around from a Wilbur visit. Here are a few quotes from the many letters we received in support
- Wilbur gives comfort and drool at the end of a long day
- I just wanted to say “thank you” for helping me to smile
- He makes me feel better just by placing his head in my lap and resting it there
- He makes me forget all my troubles, relieves all my stress and sometimes lessens my pain even if it is only for a little while
- Wilbur makes me realize that nothing is more important then the moment in which we share each other’s presence
The terrorist attacks on New York’s Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 were very traumatic for many of the patients at the VA hospital. Wilbur was always there, ready to sit quietly, listen and give comforting licks to anyone who needed them.
Wilbur has brought joy to many people over the years and has made many people happy in their last minute of life. In this day of terrorist attacks, war and unrest, we felt it was appropriate to honor a truly special dog, one who tends to the needs of our country’s veterans.
The Vermont Veterinary Medical Association is very pleased and honored to induct Wilbur into the Vermont Animal Hall of Fame as the 2003 Animal of the Year.