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Frank Gray

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Courtesy photo
Hero, left at a Huntington shelter, was adopted by Ralph Diner and helped hundreds of people as a therapy dog.

Local dog leaves legacy of healing

More than eight years ago someone left a black-and-white border collie tied up at the door to the Huntington County Humane Shelter.

That’s generally not a good fate for a dog. Animals that aren’t adopted quickly end up being euthanized.

But the dog, nicknamed Bandit because of the black around its eyes, charmed the people at the shelter, who kept it around and finally adopted it out to an outfit called Border Collie Rescue.

Enter Ralph Diner, a California psychiatrist with a cackling laugh – similar to the guys on Car Talk – who used therapy dogs in his practice.

Diner’s last therapy dog had died, and the Labrador he wanted as a replacement had already been adopted. That’s when he saw a photo of Bandit on the rescue organization’s website.

Diner said he saw something in the border collie’s eyes, and immediately wanted him.

The rescue operation, though, said no. The two argued back and forth until it was agreed that Diner could have the dog but promise to give it back if he didn’t work out.

Let’s just say the dog, who was subsequently named Hero, worked out just fine.

After the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, he spent nearly a week listening to traumatized students and staff cry as they hugged him.

He ventured into nursing homes where, in one case, Diner said, he approached a woman who hadn’t spoken a word in four years and put his head on her lap. The woman suddenly began speaking to the dog.

And the dog sat on the floor during therapy sessions in Diner’s office in Encino, Calif.

“He was the hero of lost souls,” and he had a huge soul of his own, Diner says. “He had a special gift. He knew when to approach someone and when to stay away. He knew who didn’t want a dog around and when to lick someone’s hand.”

People might not know it, but the dog became famous in the last few years.

He’s been written about in books, Diner says, and was honored by the mayor of Los Angeles.

He even got a presidential medal, just a bronze one, not silver or gold, and the medal wasn’t presented by the president, but it came with a fancy letter, Diner says.

But time took its toll on Hero, whose age is a mystery to Diner.

Spinal problems left him in a doggy wheelchair, and he had to wear doggy diapers, but he was happy and in no pain, Diner said.

But all stories must come to an end, and Hero’s story ended on Saturday night when, while Diner was holding him, the dog died.

It’s sad, but Diner says he is grateful to whoever dropped the dog off at the Huntington shelter back in 2005. “They were smart enough not to abandon him on the road or shoot him,” Diner says.

It just shows you, Diner said, you don’t write off dogs too fast.

“He helped an awful lot of people in the worst moments of their lives,” Diner said.

There’s just one thing Diner wishes he knew – how old the dog was. He wishes the owner would let someone know – himself, the shelter, the newspaper – how old the dog was when it was dropped off at the shelter.

He just wishes he knew.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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