When four goldendoodle puppies were found abandoned by the side of an Ellis County road in early November, Jennifer Hecker saw a perfect opportunity.
Options Domestic and Sexual Violence Services, of which Hecker is executive director, had recently retired Sunny, an 11-year-old golden retriever, as its service dog and was looking for another.
“We’ve been looking specifically for a goldendoodle because of the breed — they’re low allergen, low shedding, and they’re really, really great with kids and adults," she said. “But of course, they’re very expensive."
Goldendoodles — a cross between a poodle and golden retriever — are not recognized as a breed by kennel clubs but have become popular since the 1990s for the reasons Hecker mentioned.
Puppies are sold from upwards of $1,500, said Betty Hanson, director of the Humane Society of the High Plains, 2050 E. US-40 highway. The male goldendoodle puppies were taken there after being found Nov. 7 at 240th and Bison Road.
When the puppies were posted as being available for adoption, the humane society received about 70 inquiries in the first two days. Applications to adopt the puppies came from all across the country, including Pennsylvania and Oregon, she said.
Many of the applications were weeded out if the applicants indicated they wanted the puppies to sell, she said, but all found good homes, including one that went to a family looking for a goldendoodle for a child with autism.
“I think they’re all doing well. Nobody has brought them back in to show us, but we’ve got a couple pictures on our Facebook that it’s going well,” she said of the other puppies.
Hecker and her husband donated the adoption fee for Options and named the puppy Arthur Fonzarelli, or “Fonzie” for short, after the character in the 1970s TV series “Happy Days.”
“He just seemed like a really interesting guy, the coolest laid-back dog of the four of them. He needs a good, strong, cool name. So Arthur Fonzarelli it is,” Hecker said Tuesday in her basement office of Options' headquarters at 2716 Plaza Avenue as Fonzie played with some of his toys.
Tuesday was “Giving Tuesday,” a day to encourage people to make donations during the holiday season. Options had a donation drive for dog toys and treats, which the staff then delivered to the Humane Society of the High Plains.
“There is a whole community involved in rescuing Fonzie and his three brothers, and we wanted to show our gratitude for the community and pay it forward,” Hecker said.
Fonzie lives with the Heckers, along with now-retired Sunny and the couple's daughter’s cat, Gigi.
“Gigi is getting a lot of exercise,” Hecker said with a laugh as she watched Fonzie play.
Hecker is training the 4½-month-old pup, bringing him to the office to help socialize him. One command he’s learning is “touch,” in which he approaches a person and nudges their outstretched hand with his nose.
“That helps ensure that they actually come all the way to you,” Hecker said. “It’s only been three weeks, but he’s picked up on it really quickly. He’s picked up on ‘sit’ very quickly also, and ‘leave it,’ ” she said.
After he learns his obedience training, Fonzie will be put to work as a therapy dog for the victims of sexual and domestic violence Options works with in a 17,000-square-mile area. The organization has a shelter in Hays that can house up to 20 people — women, children, men and even entire families who have had to leave their homes because of domestic violence. They are also working on establishing a shelter in Colby, where an office was opened last year.
A therapy dog can play an important role for the clients, Hecker said.
“We have seen really powerful, powerful things when people are able to work with a therapy dog,” she said.
She told of one sexual assault victim who had difficulty talking about what happened to her until meeting Sunny.
“All of a sudden, all that anxiety just came out. Being able to pet him and rub his ears, she was able to talk about her feelings by talking to the dog,” she said.
A few years ago, Options worked with a boy of 6 or 7 who came from a domestic violence situation and also had a difficult time talking about what happened, she said.
“When we introduced the therapy dog that first day, he laid down on the floor, right next to his ear, and he told Sunny every terrible thing that happened to him, every terrible thing he’d seen happen to his mom and his sister that he’d never been able to tell another person. He said to the dog, ‘I know you can keep my secrets,’ ” she said.
Options does allow service animals and emotional support animals in its shelter. For pets that don’t qualify as either, the organization has a partnership with Big Creek Veterinary Services, 2807 US Highway 183 Alternate, to board pets for 30 days free of charge. Not having to leave a pet in an abusive situation can help lower barriers people might have to reporting abuse, Hecker said.
Even Options’ staff benefits from having a therapy dog.
“Our advocates get emotionally invested in the clients they work with, and so they sometimes need a little bit of self-care and therapy. Just being able to play with a dog for a few minutes, being able to take them for a walk or take them outside just to kind of clear your head space a little, it’s good morale for the office,” she said.