Certified therapy dog Mocha poses with owner Regina Forry.

From fearful stray to therapy dog

Rescue dog rises to challenge of reaching out to support seniors.

Mocha’s tale is one of rags to riches.

The approximately three-year-old dog of “indeterminate breed” belongs to Regina Forry. The two became acquainted about two years ago through Audrey Simser, who was looking after Mocha at the time. Forry said she’d been looking for a dog at the time, but something smaller.

“I said no, I think that one’s too big. But she’s not that big, she ended up being only 40 pounds,” said Forry. “Then I happened to be at the dog park, ran into her… and when I went to leave, the dog decided she needed to come with me.”

Soon after, Mocha became part of Forry’s family. While Forry was aware that Mocha had been a rescue, she didn’t know where the dog had been rescued from until the two visited Forry’s veterinarian.

“I phoned my vet and said I’ve got this dog and I’d like for you to check her out,” Forry explained. “I went in and said she’d been tested for heartworm at the other veterinarian. So they had the paperwork faxed over and she said, why didn’t you tell me the dog was from Mexico?” And I just kind of stood their blankly and said, “I didn’t know.”

Forry says Simser regularly winters in Mexico. When she returns to Canada, she is known to bring with her stray dogs, typically found at landfills.

“She fondly refers to them as purebred Mexican dump dogs, because you have no idea what their history is… and because dogs aren’t treated nicely and she’s an avid dog lover,” said Forry.

Simser is currently in Mexico and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Forry says Simser has her dogs checked out before bringing them to Canada.

“She takes them in to a Mexican vet – she says it’s the same vet she works with all the time,” said Forry. “She takes the dogs there, I guess for a check to make sure they’re healthy enough to bring across, because she doesn’t want to bring sick dogs back.”

Being a rescue dog, Forry said Mocha was initially extremely fearful, yet also very affectionate. Soon, however, Mocha’s good nature began to show through, and she became something of a peacekeeper/caretaker at Forry’s home.

“I’ve got a house full of rescues – I’ve got a couple of cats and if they decide to spat, she runs over to break it up…,” said Forry. “I have an older rescue who is now 16 and blind, and if he wanders off and I call his name at least twice, she takes off and goes and gets him. She herds him and brings him to me. And these are things she hasn’t been taught. These are just part of her.”

One day, Forry said she ran into someone who mentioned St. John Ambulance’s Therapy Dog Program, and thought Mocha might be a good candidate.

“I contacted someone with St. John Ambulance, and they told me about what was necessary,” said Forry. “So the first time she took the test, sadly she didn’t make it because she thought it was playtime with some other dog. You can’t do that. But we went back  four months later and she passed. So as of Nov. 7, she is a therapy dog and will be working full-time at Mt. Ida Mews in the summer.”

Mocha has already had some experience as a therapy dog, visiting with seniors in care facilities offering unconditional affection.

“We went into a room and there was a lady there in a wheelchair and the nurse said, ‘I doubt you’ll get much out of her because she’s been extremely depressed.’ She’d lost her husband not too long ago….,” said Forry. “And right away, Mo decided she wanted to go see this woman in the wheelchair. And she actually bullied her way up on the wheelchair and put her head against the woman’s chest and started nuzzling. Well, pretty soon the woman just grabbed her, broke down and had a good cry and just hugged the dog the whole time.”

Forry has seen Mocha jump on beds and lay beside people to be cuddled and talked to and “sometimes told stories you wouldn’t believe.”

“That’s what she does and she seems to love it and the people love her,” said Forry, who is clearly proud of her Mocha and the unique journey she’s had so far.

“I’ve never had a dog quite like her before.”