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Sometimes, all it takes is love

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image Sydney Crayton and her dad often accompanied Kipper to his Hospice “Circle of Love” program visits. She describes Kipper as her very best friend.

The Crayton family wants to encourage people who love animals and who have even-tempered loving dogs — and even some cats — to try this type of volunteer work.

By PENNY FLETCHER

APOLLO BEACH — Hospital, Hospice and nursing home patients can get the best care in the world and be visited by friends and family- yet still have a need for a closer connection with the world outside.

Since 1984, the nonprofit Project PUP (Pets Uplifting People) has brought them just that.

One local Sheltie, Kipper, was especially well-known at several area locales but mostly at LifePath Hospice and Florida Baptist Hospital in Plant City.

Kipper, who was 11 when he died July 15 of a neurological disorder that affected his movements, spent many hours loving patients who enjoyed interacting with animals before they had to leave their homes.

Doug and Beth Crayton got Kipper at a dog show in Lakeland when their daughter Sydney was 5. He wasn’t there to be shown. He was one of a litter sired by a champion, and the owner had no desire to sell any of the litter and then someday have one of them compete against her winning show dogs.

The Craytons had a Sheltie before that was run over by a car and their daughter Sydney — then 5 — kept going back to the litter to look at the pups.

“Finally, after the show was over, the woman said, all right — you can have that one,” Doug told me. “It was just because he was really over-sized for a Sheltie and wouldn’t have ever been show material.”

So they took Kipper home and he became a member of the family. Since then, Sydney has described Kipper as her very best friend.

But the others loved him too.

Doug gets up very early in the mornings before the rest of the family is awake.

“I used to sit out on the porch and put on my shoes so I wouldn’t wake anyone up. It was always Kipper who came out and wished me a good day,” he said.

Eventually Kipper was taught to dribble a basketball with his nose and when Sydney practiced soccer, he’d get in the goal net and play goalie for her.

Beth works for LifePath Hospice in triage in South Tampa but she used to make home visits all over South County. Someone from Hospice approached Beth about using Kipper for Pet Therapy in Hospice’s program, Circle of Love, Doug said.

By then, Sydney was about 9 and Kipper 5 or 6.

“He was perfect for it,” Doug said. “As part of the testing someone put a bowl of food down and then took it away. They threw a walker down to judge his reaction. That kind of thing.”

The Crayton family wants to encourage people who love animals and who have even-tempered loving dogs — and even some cats — to try this type of volunteer work.

“It’s such a wonderful program,” Doug said. “One time, I remember a teenage girl on suicide watch. There was a policeman in the room. Kipper jumped up on the bed with her and stayed more than 30 minutes. I know it made a difference.”

He knew how to give people a hug. Doug said he would stand up and tap his shoulders and Kipper would jump up and put his front paws on his shoulders to accomplish it.

“It was so rewarding sharing Kipper with others,” Doug said. “We know he made a real difference in their lives.”

Animals must be screened to be sure they have the right temperament for the work.

Screenings are held at Palm Garden of Pinellas, 200 16th Ave. S.E. in Largo.

Project PUP services Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and some of Manatee counties and has lists of places in most towns in those counties that accept the program.

Upcoming screenings are Sept. 8, Nov. 10 and Jan. 12. Everyone must call in advance to get a screening packet telling them what to bring and to receive a specific time.

Naturally vet check-ups and shots must be updated and a veterinarian must sign the health check up sheet.

To be screened in September, call Pat Herrington at 727-596-1469. In November or January, call Ellen Leber at 727-593-9395.

Pat is in charge of getting all the pre-screening materials together and out to volunteers.

“We have a total of 430 humans now,” she told me in a telephone interview July 27. “A nonprofit group, we go to hospitals, assisted living facilities and rehab centers as well as Hospice.”

Pat moved to the area in 2005 and had her Golden retriever screened and took part in the program as a visitor before getting into the administrative part of it.

The president, Karen Tappan, also has dogs in the program. “Nick and Nelson get pushed in a shopping cart in a milk carton turned upside down with a pillow on it,” she said. They’re Scottish terriers.

Any breed or mixed breed will do as long as their temperament is good.

Karen says she spends most of her volunteer time at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater and Bay Pines Veterans Hospital.

Lists of places that use the program are also available for Hillsborough County by calling Pat at 727-596-1469. People who want to learn more about it may also visit www.projectpup.net.

Doug Crayton says calling it will be worthwhile.

He misses Kipper, but does not think the family will get another dog for at least awhile.

“If I’m a real good steward one day I hope God will reward me by letting me see him again,” he said.

Kipper can rest in peace knowing he made a difference to so many people in the world, Doug said.

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