Our four-legged volunteers are always ready to lend a paw. They are Beacon’s pet therapy dogs. Sixteen specially trained and certified pups can be found making the rounds with their handlers, comforting patients who miss their own dog and bringing smiles to associates at Memorial and Elkhart General. Meet our tail-wagging friends as we continue our special “Dog Days of Summer” series.

Dog’s name: Gunner
Age: 8 ½ years
Breed: Golden Retriever
Handler: Valorie Eads
Home: Elkhart

How long have you been a therapy dog? Eight years. I made my first visit to Elkhart General Hospital when I was 8 weeks old and 20 pounds. I went with the other therapy dogs and did exactly what they did. I was a perfect gentleman!

“The best part of my job is…” Making you smile.

Describe your personality: I have always been described as a ‘gentle giant.’

What tricks do you know? I can catch snowballs and – whoosh – they disappear. And I do a very intense performance to lead mom and dad to the pantry at meal time, even when it’s an hour or two before.

Favorite human food? The only one I’ve ever had and it’s absolutely delicious: peanut butter.

Favorite toy? My red Kong. That’s because my mom stuffs it with peanut butter.

Favorite movie? That’s easy, Air Bud. Good wins over evil and Air Bud ends up with this best friend.

Biggest pet peeve? Another easy one. That’s when well-meaning visitors lean over to pet me with a bag on their shoulder and it slides off and down it comes – whack – when it would smack me in the face if it wasn’t for my mom. She catches it just in time every time!

Who’s your hero and why? My older brother Duke is my hero. He is the best therapy dog ever. He taught me everything there is to know about being a compassionate and caring therapy dogs. It was always from his heart.

Car rides or walks? Definitely walks. I love to explore and my nose is either to the ground or up in the air. Dad says I am part Blood Hound.

Rawhide or pig’s ear? I would love either. However, I tend to chew them only a little and then try to swallow them, so both are off limits. Darn! That’s the problem with being so big and having a large mouth!

“I get so excited when my owner says…” Squirrel!!!

“I will never forget the time when I…” Made my first television news debut. It was at 5:45 a.m. talking about the importance of volunteering for Center for Hospice Care. The camera had legs and there were stick-like things they put by your face when they talk to you. I wasn’t allowed to chew on them. Later I got to see Duke, mom and I on TV. I just don’t understand how we got in that box?!

How would you describe your perfect day? Oh, when mom would feed me and dad wouldn’t know it and feed me again. Now that is perfect!

If you could talk, what advice would you give the patients you see? Please accept me, pet me, and enjoy my visit. Focus on me and let me take your thoughts to a more enjoyable place, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Know that I care and may I give you strength and love.