Community Canines

Touched by a CanineVolunteers bring others joy through dogs

For the volunteers of Touched by a Canine, it’s their dogs who are doing all the work.

“We try to bring a little sunshine to those who need it,” said Leah Cooper, a volunteer who brings her dog, Riley, on many visits the organization does throughout the community.

“We visit nursing homes, hospitals, libraries, schools and a few other places. Some of the people in these facilities do not have many visitors and the dogs make their day.”

Touched by a Canine is a group of volunteers who own trained, licensed and certified service therapy dogs. The teams go where they are requested to visit patients or students.

Jerry Cooley got involved in the organization through its founder, June Walker, who died in 2007. Cooley and his two therapy dogs, Doberman pinschers named Dobby and Sidney, are regulars when the volunteers travel to different locations.

“At the libraries, the dogs listen to the children who read books to them,” Cooley said.

“Some of the children love and benefit from this as there is no pressure from the other students or embarrassment about mispronouncing a word. We witness these kids improve from sometimes not being able to read to being able to read complete books.”

Walker formed the organization in 2002, shortly after her husband was killed in a car accident. The group’s mission is to help bring joy to people’s lives through the dogs.

“We love doing therapy work,” said Margie Spencer of Alton, another volunteer. Spencer brings her border collie, Jessie, who is semi-retired, and her Maltese, Lilly, on visits.

“It brings so much joy to so many people in the nursing homes, who most of the time don’t have a lot to smile about, and the dogs always bring smiles to their faces.”

Marcie Nagle, who has been a member since 2007, has three therapy dogs involved with the organization – Susie, a 9-year-old bassett hound and pit bull mix; Bear, a 4-year-old registered golden retriever; and Tommy, a 6-year-old pit bull mix.

“All three of my dogs love people and have brought lots of joy to those who they have visited,” Nagle said.

With about 20 active working teams of owners and dogs, the organization has volunteers who are retired, work full time, have young children or have no children other than their dogs.

“We have a little of everything in our group,” Cooley said. “Most of our dogs come from homeless issues and/or rescues. Some are purebred. Some are mixed breeds. Some were even found wandering down a highway. Most of our dogs have great stories in themselves.”

If you are interested in joining the group or would like more information, email Leah Cooper at or call Jerry Cooley at (618) 558-7432.

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