Angel with four paws: Marley helps with visits to schools, nursing homes

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 26, 2014

When her son brought home a sickly Labrador puppy, Norma Shuping had no idea her life was about to change. Dying of heat stroke and intestinal worms, Shuping wasn’t sure the pup could pull through —but with some help from a veterinarian and a lot of careful nursing, the dog she’d dubbed Marley made it.
It was a gift.
“I feel like God saved his life for a reason, and we need to give back,” Shuping said.
So when Marley needed training, Shuping contacted Rick Kaplan of Canine Angels — a nonprofit organization based in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Canine Angels rescues dogs from bad situations and trains them to be service animals for disabled veterans. Many of the dogs are within hours of being put down, Shuping said. The dogs that are suitable are trained to be licensed service dogs, and they’re matched with veterans.
“I’ve seen these veterans’ lives changed immensely,” she said.
Canine Angels also trains therapy dogs, for those that don’t quite have the concentration it takes to be a service dog.
Kaplan was the first to suggest Marley become a therapy dog
Now, Marley is a familiar face in Salisbury. The 2-year-old got his therapy license in October 2013, and Shuping set up partnerships with schools and nursing homes in the area, as well as in North Myrtle Beach, where she often visits on work trips.
“I enjoy the seniors and Marley loves the children,” she said.
Once a week, Marley and Shuping go to North Hills Christian School in Salisbury. They sit in on a class, and the kids are given time to read to Marley.
Therapy dogs are great for those who are scared to read aloud, Shuping said, because a dog won’t laugh or judge — it will just listen.
Sometimes, Shuping says, a child is afraid of a dog or allergic to them, so she makes sure Marley does not approach such a child. But she says it really hasn’t been a problem, and Marley has actually helped a lot of students become more comfortable around dogs.
The nursing homes Marley visits are among his highlights. Shuping says Marley is very responsive to the residents, and that they all know him by name —even many suffering from Alzheimer’s.
“They remember,” she said.
Marley also helps out at the Special Olympics and de-stress days at local colleges. Unlike a service dog, which is focused on a single person, therapy dogs are trained to go up to people and be warm and friendly.
“That’s what these dogs are about,” Shuping said.
While Shuping says that most businesses in Salisbury have been very open and receptive to Marley, there are a few places he is not allowed — such as the county schools. Shuping says she makes it very clear to business owners that Marley is not a service dog, and if a problem arises they leave without creating any fuss. But she remains hopeful that others will come around, in time.
“There are so many, so many more places we could go,” she said.
When Shuping and Marley are in Myrtle, they team up with Canine Angels and visit schools, nursing homes and events — and sometimes, Marley just runs with the pack.
Shuping says she wishes she and Marley could be a more integral part of Canine Angels, but she loves the work they’re doing in Salisbury.
“When we walk out the door I look at Marley and say, ‘We say God today,’ ” Shuping said.
Trading Ford Baptist Church on Long Ferry Road is hosting a fundraiser for Canine Angels on Aug. 2. A yard sale will be held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. And hot dogs will be sold from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.. The proceeds from both sales will be donated to Canine Angels.