PARC arts student Debbie snuggles up for a kiss with Snapper, the therapy dog. Snapper is the object of a story about overcoming all odds to make a difference.
Photo by BRIAN GOFF
P.K. Lichtenberger and her dog Snapper. Snapper is a therapy dog that visits PARC industries regularly.
LARGO – Largo business owner P.K. Lichtenberger knows first hand how difficult life can be with a physical or mental handicap.
She also knows from the experience of her pet that if you want something bad enough you can achieve it.
Lichtenberger has just written a children’s book, “Hold My Paw.” It is the story of her pet, a Labrador retriever named Snapper, and how she overcame all odds and is now a therapy dog helping humans with special challenges in life.
Those humans are connected to PARC, the organization that provides residential and day programs for people with mental deficiencies. Those humans have a connection to the therapy dogs that drop by for a visit every week.
Some have a special connection to Snapper, whose owners never thought she’d live, let alone thrive at helping others.
Snapper was born with an internal condition that required two life-saving surgeries at the University of Tennessee Veterinary College in Knoxville. Her odds weren’t good, only a 40 percent chance of survival after the first year.
Lichtenberger remembers the anxiety waiting for the last surgery to be finished and the reaction of Snapper’s older brother, Flounder, in the waiting room.
“When we went to Tennessee we brought Flounder with us,” she said. “We weren’t sure if we’d be bringing Snapper home or even if she would survive. While we were waiting Flounder did an amazing thing. He sensed a lady who was sitting nearby was in distress and he left us and edged toward her.”
As the Lichtenbergers later discovered, the woman’s dog was dying.
“Before we knew it Flounder was sitting up next to her with his head in her lap, comforting her as she patted him, crying,” Lichtenberger said.
It was then they decided that Flounder would make a good therapy dog.
“He had a knack for it,” she said. “And we decided that Snapper would become a therapy dog too, if she survived the surgery.”
Survive she did, although her condition means she can’t eat any protein. Her owners lovingly call her the Vegetarian Lab.
Prior to Snapper getting sick, P.K. and her husband Erich, who have operated Betts Fishing Center on Starkey Road for the past 10 years, had gotten involved with PARC through the charity efforts of the Old Salt Fishing Club. It would turn out to be a perfect fit for their dogs, Flounder and Snapper and their mother Tuna.
Flounder was the first to be certified as a therapy dog. Tuna was next. In order to pass the therapy test a dog must show patience and tolerance around people who do not necessarily know the correct way to pet a dog or to behave around dogs. A therapy dog must tolerate such things as loud, unpredictable noises or tail pulling or nose pinching. Snapper was not particularly good at any of those things.
“Because she was sick she had been sheltered all her life,” said Lichtenberger. “She had to learn to be social around people. She is doing very well and getting better but she’s not the best at anything because that’s just what she’s like.”
Eventually Snapper passed the therapy test and although she visits PARC regularly she is more at home at Ronald McDonald House, playing with children who love to run and play and throw Frisbees, exactly what Snapper is good at.
Lichtenberger continues to be amazed at what her dogs are able to achieve with the people at PARC.
“It may seem like small steps to some,” she said. “But what the dogs do at PARC is very important.” She recalled the story of one boy who was so afraid of Snapper the first time he visited that he acted out by throwing chairs around. Now she said he is the first one to greet the dog and pet him and shows pride at his accomplishment.
Kelli Caputo, PARC’s vice-president of community relations, said the therapy program is working magic. “The children are more comfortable around animals and are no longer fearful of them,” she said. “A connection with another living creature helps them.”
Caputo pays tribute to Ms. Lichtenberger and her dogs for what they are doing for PARC – Providing Accuracy and Recognizing Capability.
“Not only does she bring the dogs regularly to visit our clients, but she is very generous, a most generous volunteer.” All the proceeds of her book are going to help PARC, and the PARC arts and crafts students did all of the drawn illustrations in the book. And PARC’s packaging and assembling staff, an operation that employees close to 200 people everyday handle any purchases that require the books to be shipped out.
It is the work of PARC and more specifically their clients, the people who have to overcome disabilities that inspired P.K. Lichtenberger to write the book of Snapper’s challenge.
To her the people at PARC and Snapper taught her a valuable life lesson. “You can do things with a disability; you just have to keep trying.”