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WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) — She doesn't receive a paycheck, Social Security or vacation time, but Phoebe is a valued member of the therapy team at Compass Counseling Wausau.
Phoebe's story is compelling, but she has to rely on others to tell it.
Phoebe is a certified therapy dog at the outpatient mental health and alcohol and other drug abuse clinic. Her calm disposition helps her owner, counselor Andy Cameron, work with his clients.
But life wasn't always chew toys and treats for Phoebe.
In July 2012, the shih tzu was found abandoned in a crate in a garage in Minnesota, left there by an evicted tenant. A bag of food had been left in her cage, but time had passed — perhaps as much as a month — without anyone attending to the dog.
Cameron said Phoebe had to be cut out of the enclosure because her hair was matted to the cage with feces; her eyes were scratched from the matted hair, she was afflicted with an intestinal parasite, and her weight was down to 8 pounds.
He learned about Phoebe and her plight through Compass' weekend receptionist, Rhonda Singstock, who is president of Shih Tzu Rescue of Central Wisconsin. Singstock had received word of Phoebe's condition through a Craigslist ad.
"She was very sick. We almost lost her," Singstock told Daily Herald Media (http://wdhne.ws/1n7a1Ut).
Singstock said Phoebe was used as a breeding dog and according to the veterinarian who spayed her, she likely was bred every time she was in heat. Her only job for most of her life was to pump out puppies for unscrupulous breeders and buyers.
"Basically, she was typical of a puppy mill dog even though she wasn't in a puppy mill," Singstock said.
Today, Phoebe is up to a healthy 15 pounds and recently received official certification as a therapy dog. Cameron said veterinarians think she's around 6 years old.
Adopting a dog — especially a small dog with myriad health problems — wasn't part of Cameron's plan in 2012. For one thing, he had always had bigger dogs like Labs and retrievers growing up. But he changed his mind when Singstock showed him a picture of Phoebe.
"I wasn't even looking to get a dog, but I was like, 'Oh, she's cute, let's meet her,'" Cameron said. "And once you meet Phoebe, you got to have her."
Cameron said the therapy dog idea blossomed once he realized Phoebe had a "super calm" demeanor.
"So I started bringing her in to work here and she just did a great job, so I eventually got her certified as a therapy dog in April of this year," Cameron said. "Now she's official."
Cameron said Phoebe helps with all types of clients, including those who are very anxious or who have head trauma.
"They kind of focus on Phoebe while they're talking and it kind of gets them to open up a little bit."
She also works well with teenage boys, said Cameron.
"Troubled teenage boys want to act all tough and then they start petting a little dog, and they kind of chill out a little bit on the tough-guy act, and we can start getting some stuff done," he said.
Cameron said Phoebe has helped the relationship he has with his clients, but given her background, "just giving her a good home has been really rewarding."
Singstock said she's rescued more than 160 dogs since she started fostering in 2007, but most don't have the capacity to do what Phoebe does.
"After all she has gone through, she is just a remarkable little girl," Singstock said.
Information from: Wausau Daily Herald Media, http://www.wausaudailyherald.com
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