When he asked for a puppy to celebrate his too-brief remission from cancer in 2001, John R. Barrick could not have imagined how Tara Jane would enrich the life of his wife, Pauline, after he was gone.
Twelve years after John and Pauline Barrick bought the English springer spaniel from former breeders Nina and Charlie Kaars, Pauline Barrick and Tara Jane maintain an active schedule of volunteer work. Tara Jane has been the bridge that keeps Barrick, a retired accountant and longtime piano teacher, immersed in the community, forging new friendships and filling her volunteer time with meaningful interactions with strangers.
And last week, Tara Jane received an honorable mention in the American Kennel Club’s Awards for Canine Excellence. According to the AKC, 140 dogs were nominated for the honors in the categories of Therapy, Service, Exemplary Companion Dog, Law Enforcement, and Search and Rescue. The winner in the therapy dog category, in which Tara Jane won one of five honorable mentions, is a Spinone Italiano dog named Drago who made many visits to a crisis center set up to aid victims of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.
Tara Jane became an accredited therapy dog as a 7-year-old, but she was immersed in the work from puppyhood. While John Barrick was being treated, “She sat in his lap for hours, bringing him joy on even the hardest days,” said Pauline Barrick.
After her husband’s death in 2003, Pauline Barrick could have retreated. But with the help of Tara Jane, she expanded her world instead.
“After my husband passed away, it was easy to just do what I had to do with work and stay home,” she said. “It’s tough some days. But now I think, ‘What better way is there to live your life than to be there for other people?’ ”
Tara Jane “comes from a long line of show champions, but, from my perspective, now what she is doing is far, far more important,” said Nina Kaars in an email. Barrick “is using the instincts of this sweet dog for the betterment of people.”
The dog does the work during therapy visits, attracting people with her soft eyes, slowly wagging tail and gentle nature. Barrick said, “If you put me in a room without the dog, nobody will stop, everybody is going about their business. Put me in a room with the dog, and she draws the people. I would have never believed it in a million years until I saw it.”
Rob Mamone, a trainer at Western Lakes Training Club, helped prepare Tara Jane for the Therapy Dogs International test in 2008. To pass the test, dogs must be happy to meet new people but not overly enthusiastic in their greetings, and must be calm and confident around people using wheelchairs or crutches, walking with a limp, or speaking loudly.
Barrick estimates that she and Tara Jane have made more than 1,000 visits to Roswell Park, nursing homes, schools and libraries. They are on the waiting list to volunteer at Women and Children’s Hospital, too. Barrick also does therapy dog work at Roswell Park with her other springer spaniel, Maddie, age 2.
It was at Roswell Park several years ago that Barrick met Sister Mary Agnes.
“We visited her a lot during her last days,” said Barrick. “From this, I now have a sister who comes to my house and visits with me, and we visit some of the other sisters at the convent, including one who is 101.”
In her letter nominating Tara Jane for the award, Barrick wrote, “Her gift of healing continues to amaze me. I know in my heart that my late husband would be pleased to see the joy she brings to everyone she meets.”