She and her dog, Louie, use pet therapy to bring joy
By Chris Stewart
“Debby Bee” Boomershine gets people to move in more ways than one.
The 58-year-old has taught fitness classes for more than 30 years. About 35 of her students have been taking classes from her so long some became octogenarians in the process.
“She always leaves you feeling good about yourself with her positive attitude and energy,” wrote Angela Sims, whose exercise class from Fitworks in Beavercreek nominated Boomershine, their instructor, as a Dayton Daily News Unsung Hero.
However, it’s those among us with the least agility — and sometimes diminished cognizance — that Boomershine stirs to life and awareness with the help of her four-legged fellow named Louie Von Goldendoodle, a certified pet therapy dog.
‘Wasn’t a dry eye’
The team is a regular at seven area senior living and rehabilitation facilities. And the people Louie and “Debby Bee” seem to move the most are those grasping to keep a lifetime of memories from slipping away entirely: people in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease.
“We have patients who don’t speak ever to any staff. They are very closed, but they will talk to Louie,” said Boomershine, who often dons Louie with an outfit suitable for the approaching holiday or occasion.
Around the Fourth of July this year the two visited a facility with Louie decked out in a patriotic red, white and blue ensemble, and a woman who never communicates broke out in a full-throated version of “God Bless America.”
“There wasn’t a dry eye at the nurse’s station,” Boomershine said.
Not long after that, Louie was in the same facility sporting festive party hat and the same woman belted out “Happy Birthday,” but slipped again into silence, Boomershine said.
Judy Ashford, the activity director at Lincoln Park Manor in Kettering, has witnessed the effects of therapy animals on those with Alzheimer’s disease and others who ache to reach out and touch the world they inhabited before mind or body frayed.
The residents seem to react similarly to visiting babies and therapy animals, which both awaken comforting memories, Ashford said. But Louie has a special touch.
“He can sense a person’s demeanor and can tell if they need a little extra time,” she said. “If they’re having a really bad day — maybe they’re in a bed and they can’t move too much — he’ll lay his head on their lap and just look at them with those beautiful eyes. You can tell he can connect with people in a way other people can’t.”
Ashford said Boomershine often makes trips back to Lincoln Park Manor just to check on one resident or another who might be going through a difficult time. At times, Boomershine and Louie honor special requests to visit a lone patient at a local hospital.
While the name Louie Von Goldendoodle may conjure up Westminster Kennel Club-like grandeur, he’s simply a lovable mutt, Boomershine said. The six-year-old cross between a standard poodle and a golden retriever shares a Washington Twp. house with Boomershine and her husband Brad, a vice president at PAVE Technology Company in Dayton, who’s responsible for bestowing the drawn-out name.
“My husband decided that he needed a regal name because he was very masterful and self-assured as a puppy. So for some odd reason, my husband started calling him Louie Von Goldendoodle,” she said.
After 14 years at NCR rising to a district manager, in 20 years at Moore’s Fitness as a human resources director and aerobics instructor, and after five years into a job at Fitworks, Boomershine cut her workload to part time to volunteer more. It made her feel “like I’m doing something I was intended to do,” she said. “I believe this, we all are put on this earth to help other people. Period.”
And that’s what Louie and Boomershine have been doing the past five years.
Louie is a big part of Boomershine’s giving to the community, but not all of it.
Back at Fitworks, Boomershine calls on her students a couple of times a year to help raise funds for worthy causes, and they answer the call. They’ve raised thousands for breast cancer research and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Other efforts have funded the purchase of Bailey chairs, a high-chair like device that helps dogs with canine megaesophagus eat in an upright position so food passes on to the stomach beyond an enlarged esophagus.
When Louie’s not being a therapy animal “he gets to be a dog” hiking with Boomershine about 25 miles a week.
Boomershine said she benefits more by working with Louie than the people they visit.
“I get reminded there are a lot of very lonely people in this world that are forgotten. And I am so blessed,” she said. “I can be in not such a great mood, drive over to a facility, and 90 minutes there leave and my whole attitude has changed.”
People respond to therapy animals because they’re non-judgmental and many had pets earlier in their lives, Boomershine said.
“It’s very powerful. A lot of people have had to give up their dogs because of their health. They miss their dog so terribly that when I walk into the room the transformation is incredible,” she said.
Just a couple of weeks ago Louie and Boomershine visited a blind man forced to give up his service dog when he moved.
“He put his paws up on the guy’s bed and the tears just started to come down this man’s face when he started to touch Louie.”
Staff photographer Ty Greenlees contributed to this story.