PHOTO: Fred Lopez
As a therapy dog and constant companion, Reese brings joy into the lives of every person she meets.
Much like the peanut butter cups she’s named after, 3-year-old Reese is sweet to the core. People can’t help but fall in love with the adorable Great Pyrenees/German shepherd mix.
“She’s such a caring, loving dog,” says her owner Nina Calabrese. “Even people who don’t like dogs like her.”
There was a time, however, Reese wasn’t so loved. When Nina first spotted her, she was a sick, malnourished puppy in a pet store. Her tendency to nip at newcomers landed her among the discounted dogs. Nina, in search of companionship after making a difficult and lonely move from New Jersey to Florida, wasn’t initially sold on Reese. But even after playing with a gorgeous golden retriever pup, she found herself repeatedly drawn to the teddy bear-like furball.
“I thought she was the cutest little puppy,” says Nina. “I didn’t realize when I got her home how sick she was though. She had really bad kennel cough and she was very underweight.”
But after some tender loving care, Reese made not only a full recovery she also made a place in Nina’s heart. “I say she’s my little doggie soul mate,” Nina says and smiles. “When I moved here I didn’t know anyone and Reese showed me unconditional love…It was just extremely difficult being alone until I found her.”
Realizing the impact Reese was having in her life, Nina started kicking around the idea of training Reese as a therapy dog. Nina says the dog loves to make people smile, and she knew Reese had the gift to do just that for others. It wasn’t until she moved to Clermont 18 months ago that Nina got serious about therapy dog training for Reese. She joined Caring Canines Therapy Dogs, a local nonprofit therapy dog organization that visits assisted living facilities, hospitals, libraries, child care centers, and other places where children and adults can benefit from a little canine comfort.
Every week, Nina takes Reese to Superior Residences of Clermont to spend time with their memory care and Alzheimer’s residents. They also go to Building Blocks Ministries, a nonprofit in Minneola that helps individuals with developmental disabilities achieve independent living and successful employment.
Each places brings out different sides of Reese’s personality. For example, when she goes to Superior Residences on Mondays, she’s calm and super affectionate with the residents.
“A lot of them miss their own pets so they love being around her,” says Nina. “Some even have dog treats to share with her, and she’s just extremely good about going around and greeting everyone.”
However, at Building Blocks, Reese comes alive, playing with and giving loads of wet kisses to the clients.
“We go for walks on Friday mornings at Building Blocks, and when we arrive, everyone gets so excited. Reese just feeds off their energy,” Nina says. “I have to make sure I visit all the classrooms because everyone wants time with Reese.”
Volunteer work is very important for both Reese and Nina, who eventually wants to take Reese to hospitals and other places where people could benefit from doggie therapy. Nina believes life should be about doing for others and spreading positivity. Having Reese helped change her outlook on life; therefore, she knows Reese can make life just a little sweeter for others, too.