To woman, dogs are worth their weight in gold


May 11, 2000|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A FOREIGN EXCHANGE student from Spain, completing his stay at my house several years ago, presented me with a gift he had brought from home. It was a delicate piece of Lladro porcelain in the shape of a young boy and his goat.

I thanked my guest for the beautiful figurine, asking how he could have known, even before we met, how much I loved animals. "Oh, all Americans love animals," he replied.

The truth is most of us do love animals, choosing them as companions, bodyguards, and -- in the case of psychologist Rochelle Lesser -- professional consultant.

Lesser capitalizes on the intelligence and gentle nature of her family pets, two golden retrievers. She takes them to work.

As co-director of the Education and Therapy Center, a division of Millersville Psychological Services in Millersville, Lesser finds that her clients, who are primarily children, are more at ease when the goldens are on the job.

It was through her late golden, Ollie, that Lesser discovered how successful the relationship between dog and client can be.

"I often work with young boys, fourth- or fifth-graders, who are depressed, and suffering from feelings of poor self-image," said Lesser, an Owings Mills resident. "They especially dislike having to come to see someone."

Lesser realized that the children were better able to open up with the dog's presence. She began to use the human/canine relationship during sessions with a young client, praising the child for how well he did with the dog, and explaining that it was because the dog liked him. The result was an immediate boost to the child's self-esteem.

"It wouldn't matter how good or not I was," Lesser says. "Ollie was the one that scored the success."

Today, 3-year old Darcy and 1-year-old Alfie are filling Ollie's generous paws.

One of the primary characteristics of depression is not wanting to do anything, but when the dogs are present, the psychologist says, the children become more energetic, interact with the dogs, and rise out of their depression.

"Goldens are known for their good nature," Lesser says. "I don't believe there is another breed with such an accepting, nurturing temperament. Goldens' intelligence makes them the perfect choice for therapy."

Alfie (full name, Little Lord Alfie) is the namesake of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who wrote, "It's better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."

For Lesser, the quotation brings Ollie to mind. Like his famous namesake, Oliver North, it seems, Ollie was an accomplished paper shredder.

Lesser's reciprocal devotion to the breed continues outside the office. She is a member of GRREAT, a golden retriever rescue, education and training organization based in Falls Church, Va., that finds good homes for abandoned, homeless, unwanted or mistreated golden retrievers in Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Delaware and parts of Pennsylvania.

She's also a member of Maryland's newest rescue group, GoldHeart Golden Retriever Rescue Inc., founded less than a year ago in Perry Hall. GoldHeart rescues dogs in Delaware, south central Pennsylvania and north central Maryland.

"There are over 60 rescue groups in the U.S.," says Lesser, who belonged to one in New England before moving to Maryland. Through GoldHeart, she and her husband, pharmacist Gary Lesser, recently provided a foster home to an unwanted golden while a permanent home was being found.

"It is overwhelming to me that there are unwanted goldens," Lesser exclaims.

Like most golden owners, she considers "golden" and "unwanted" in the same sentence to constitute an oxymoron. Still, in just one year GRREAT saved 300 goldens from death by mistreatment or euthanasia. Lesser points out that both GRREAT and GoldHeart are needed to handle the large volume of cases.

When she is praised for her efforts in behalf of the breed, Lesser demurs. "The true champions are the people who have dedicated their lives to going out and retrieving dogs. It would be too heart-wrenching for me to rescue an animal from a shelter," she says. "So I do other things."

One of those "other things" is founding a multipage Web site she calls The site has links to innumerable other sites. Her goal is the dissemination of information about the importance of the human-canine bond.

A recent entry at featured a new book, "Gas Station Charlie: A True Story about a Real Dog," by Germantown author Karen Grassmuck Kraushaar.

Published in December, it's the tale of a golden retriever named Charlie who lived near Detroit. Charlie's "job" at his human's filling station was to carry paper money to and from the office. (Charlie didn't carry coins.) Customers loved the friendly dog despite their slobbery dollar bills.

When the unbelievable happened -- his "retirement tip jar" was stolen -- Charlie's story hit the national news on CNN and Inside Edition, and Paul Harvey's radio commentary.

It turns out Charlie was more than just a pleasant dog to have around. He performed his job so well that he never swallowed any money. However, his replacement -- son Benjamin -- is apparently no Charlie. He's already consumed nearly $55.

Karen Kraushaar is a native of Ann Arbor, Mich. Her mother-in-law, professional photographer Doris Kays Kraushaar, illustrated "Gas Station Charlie."

The author, her two golden retrievers and the illustrator will be in Maryland to attend a book signing party from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday at the Timonium Pet Depot store -- an event sponsored by Lesser and the GoldHeart organization. All proceeds from the sale of Charlie's book at the Pet Depot event will benefit GoldHeart.

For information on the book signing, contact Lesser at 410-561-0931 or

To reach GRREAT Inc., call 703-620-6593 or visit

To contact GoldHeart, call 410-529-1589 or visit

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