Therapy dog at HHS makes ‘ruff’ days better
When Megan Dillard’s 3-month-old puppy jumped from the back of her truck and snapped his femur, she thought the worst. She and her husband Chad spent a month trying to save the leg, and when the decision came down to Zeus or his leg, they chose Zeus. She said it was a tough decision to make, but it was through the ordeal that Zeus found his purpose.
Shortly after Zeus’ left hind leg was amputated, Dillard began researching how to put his happy-go-lucky attitude to work. Five years later, Zeus is a certified therapy dog, and he hops through the halls of Hartselle High School bringing slobber-filled kisses and joy wherever he goes.
“His job is to make people happy,” Dillard said. “When he went through losing his leg, his character and personality really shined through it all. We spent a month trying to save his leg, and there were times when I was cleaning it and giving him his shots when I would just break down and cry, and he got me through it.
“I started thinking, ‘If he can do that for me while he’s losing his leg, what can he do for the world? What can we do for other people?’”
Dillard said Zeus underwent months of training and testing to become a therapy dog, and in the beginning, they visited nursing homes and other organizations in their spare time. Dillard said Zeus has a particular sense about him that leads him to people who need his help. “At the nursing homes, it’s like he knew which rooms to visit – he’s super sensitive to people’s needs.”
Dillard said she knew then that she wanted to find a way to get him into school with her. “I spend so much time with students who have different types of stresses,” she said. “There are so many kids that don’t experience unconditional love, and that’s something a dog can give you. They don’t care if you’re short or tall or what race you are or if you bathed that day. High school is tough, and where peers are sometimes judgmental, dogs are not.”
His disability doesn’t slow him down, Dillard said. If anything, it makes him more relatable. “I think it helps too that he only has three legs,” she said. “He’s not perfect. He’ll wipe out in my room or in the hallway and just gets up and keeps on going. They see that determination and that little things don’t have to be the end of the world.”
Zeus is at the school every Tuesday and Friday. Dillard said students will oftentimes visit Zeus during breaks, and teachers will occasionally request visits. “I’m happy he brings so much joy to people, and I’m happy these kids feel comfortable enough to visit him,” she said.