If “Tallie” were in high school, she’d no doubt be one of the popular girls. Pretty, smart, cheerleader, and homecoming queen all rolled into one, no matter that Tallie is actually a golden retriever.
As Tallie and her owner, Marilyn Dumas, make the rounds at Oakhurst Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, her popularity is obvious. It’s a chorus of “Oh, hello, Tallie! Come over here and visit me” and “Tallie is so beautiful” and “I just love Tallie,” followed by lots of tail-wagging from Tallie and plenty of smiles from the patients.
Marilyn and Tallie belong to Ocala-based Project PUP, whose members and their dogs visit patients in assisted living facilities, rehab centers, hospitals, and hospices. The organization celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2007 and Marilyn is one of the original active members.
“I was a member of a golden retriever club, and in 1987, someone came to talk to us at a meeting about Project PUP getting started,” says Marilyn. “I thought that was a great idea and got involved right away with ‘Andy,’ the dog I had then. He was a great dog and took right to the visits.”
Tallie was a different matter.
“She was a bit of a wild child at first,” recalls Marilyn. “I started training her when she was four months old and we started doing short visits soon after. Gradually, she started really liking to visit and she’s been doing it ever since.”
Now 9, Tallie gets excited when Marilyn brings out her red collar, leash, and Project PUP vest.
“She’s ready to go and visit her friends,” says Marilyn. “Tallie has more friends than I do. Not everyone knows my name, but everyone knows Tallie.”
In fact, when Marilyn had double knee replacement surgery, she checked into Oakhurst for her rehab. People were friendly enough, she says, “but everyone kept asking me where Tallie was.” And when Marilyn went home, she had to promise to come back—with Tallie, of course.
Nine-year-old golden retriever Tallie spends much of her free time visiting
with patients at local rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and nursing homes.
Lest you think Tallie is just Miss Canine Congeniality, think again. Her registered name is Morninglo Tallahassee Lassie and she is quite accomplished. Her titles include hunting retriever champion, upland hunter, and junior hunter. For her work as a therapy dog, Tallie is a member of the Florida Animal Hall of Fame.
Even after 20 years of being part of Project PUP with her dogs, Marilyn says she never tires of the visits. Sometimes she and Tallie visit both in the mornings and the afternoons.
“The visits are always so rewarding,” she says. “A lot of patients have or had pets and when they see Tallie, they just light up.”
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