PHOTO: Fred Lopez
Dice and her human, Howard Horwitz, are pretty familiar faces in and around The Villages. As a therapy dog team, the dynamic duo visits as many assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers as they can between County Road 44 and County Road 42.
“We’re on the road four days a week, and average about eight visits a week,” says Howard. “Sometimes we hit three places in one day.”
Dice is just one of the 65 registered dogs that make up the Canine Therapy Teams of The Villages. Nevertheless, the 10-year-old Bouvier des Flandres wasn’t always a therapy dog. During the first two years of her life, Dice was a show dog, but a defective tooth lead to early retirement. Howard eventually became her owner and recognized immediately she would make a wonderful therapy dog.
“She’s a couch dog,” he says and laughs. “She just has the perfect personality and disposition for what she does. She never reacts; she’s always this calm, except when I forget to feed her.”
Inspired by Dice’s sweet, low-key temperament and the need for therapy dogs in Lake and Sumter counties, Howard decided to form the Canine Therapy Teams of The Villages in 2009. It started with just him, Dice, and three other teams. However, word of mouth and good media exposure has helped the group grow to incredible heights.
Together, Dice and Howard have received a number of awards for their volunteer work. In 2014, they were awarded the American Kennel Club (AKC) Distinguished Therapy Dog Award, the highest AKC recognition a therapy dog can receive. Then last year, the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a national therapy dog registry, recognized Dice with a certificate and pin for completing 1,100 visits.
Recently, the Alliance of Therapy Dogs named Dice and Howard its No. 1 therapy dog team out of its 14,000 members. It’s a fitting title for a pair who dedicates so much of themselves to making others happy.
Howard says it’s the best feeling in the world when he and Dice arrive at one of their designated stops and people’s faces light up at the sight of her. For many who live in assisted living facilities or nursing homes, they live there because they have to, and some rarely have visitors.
“So we become their visitors, and it brings some joy to us to know we serve that purpose,” Howard says. “I enjoy it immensely and I know [Dice] does, too.”