The Smallest of things can do the biggest of things

There’s a new resident living at Sunrise’s Morehead Center these days, easily distinguishable by his four legs, fluffy golden fur, and a “don’t you just think I’m the cutest?” expression on his face. As you can imagine, the young ladies who currently live at Morehead Center have welcomed this adorable Goldendoodle puppy, named Abel, with open arms. 

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and a smile on a child’s face is just priceless!” shared Jill Hamlin, Sunrise’s Program Director at Morehead Center.  “One of our ladies has already taught Abel to sit, lie down, and give a high five. The ladies are very protective of Abel.”

But Abel actually has a specific purpose at Morehead Center, providing therapy support for the girls who live there as well as helping them with socialization and life skills. It will take a total of 52 weeks for Abel to complete his training and certifications. Ashley Cains has provided the initial training for Abel and has recently become a Direct Care Counselor at Morehead Center, taking over the therapy dog program.

The idea to incorporate a therapy dog came from Jill who already has a therapy dog herself – a Toy Poodle named Guy. So it was natural for Jill to pursue a permanent therapy dog program at Morehead Center. Jill received approval from Sunrise President Dale Suttles and Vice President of Compliance and Clinical Services Andy Fisher to move forward. But where would they get their first dog?

Fortunately, Dr. David Pinkston, a veterinarian in Ashland, is a current Sunrise board member. “When he was approached about a therapy dog program, he just took the idea and ran with it,” said Jill. He was able to help secure Abel from a reputable breeder named Chelsea Gilliam of Oodles of Doodles LLC.

The immediate goal for Jill is for Abel to help the Morehead Center girls with issues such as socialization, caring, and structure, and to even give them tangible evidence that rules do have reasons. Jill explains: “Let’s take self harm for example. Ladies who self harm often believe they only hurt themselves and that the things they do to themselves have no bearing on another person. Well, now they are turning in sharp pieces of plastic, staples, rubber bands, horded medications, etc. because they are now thinking, ‘What if Abel gets it and tries to eat it?’ It’s real humbling to see how much magic a 15 pound bundle of fur can do in 15 minutes! What can I say; the smallest of things can do the biggest of things!”

Jill also wants to see the Morehead Center girls take Abel with them to go out into the community. She wants each young lady to complete the Sunrise dog handler program and receive a certificate. And Jill’s broader goal is that Sunrise’s Morehead Center will have the opportunity to train even more therapy dogs for all Sunrise programs and then continue the program even further by providing therapy dogs for adoption into the community for private care and businesses.

Chelsea Gilliam has a specific desire for Abel’s work at Sunrise’s Morehead Center as well: “It is our sincerest hope that Abel will provide comfort, love, and affection to girls who we understand could use it most in their lives. Sometimes, it is hard to imagine that any child could experience what some of these young ladies have been through. They certainly deserve, as all children do, to receive the kind of unconditional love a puppy has to offer. If Abel can help just one child to feel better about their situation, then it was certainly worth it to us to place him in their lives.” And by the look on the young ladies’ faces, Abel is well on his way to accomplishing that task.

Written by David Lyninger, Sunrise Children’s Services Associate Director of Communications

Kait Flora