Dickens, a six-year-old Golden Retriever, loved to go to the Callie Library in Sioux Falls on Thursday afternoons. While children read out loud from books, he would sit in the middle, falling asleep while receiving pets from tiny hands.
“He knew when he was in the library, we lay down, we listened and we were very quiet,” his owner and handler Carol Everetts said.
Dickens, was a certified therapy dog through Therapy Dogs International, a volunteer organization that helps register and test therapy dogs. Dickens, along with Everetts’s other certified therapy dog, Derby, were killed the afternoon of Dec. 13 when a car hit them near the Everetts’s house along 273 Street, a mile west of I-29.
Everetts, 69, had put the two golden retrievers out to play around in her front yard when they took off running in the snow drifts, possibly after a rabbit, she said.
“I’m positive I never heard a car slam on its brakes or a horn beep or anything at all along the road,” she said. While Everetts searched for the two with her neighbor, calling their names, her husband Dan jumped in his pickup truck to start the search.
He found Dickens and Derby laid out at the entrance to their driveway, and while he tried to administer CPR, the dogs died.
“That was the beginning of our nightmare,” Everetts said.
‘Dickens was basically my little shadow’
Everetts and her husband have had seven therapy dogs since 2007 and have volunteered their time at various hospitals and hospice centers across Sioux Falls.
Dickens came to the Everetts’ house in April 2015 and quickly trained and passed his therapy dog exam when he was 16 months old nearly a year later.
“He was just a doll. He was like a little fluffy toy. He was so sweet,” Carol Everetts said.
Over the past five years, Dickens completed over 500 visits, earning the Therapy Dog Gold Award. In March 2019, he was the Helpline Center’s Volunteer of the Month.
Therapy dogs go into libraries, hospitals and hospice centers to visit with children and patients, according to Therapy Dog International. They must be tested and certified with a handler before they can start volunteering.
At libraries, Dickens would help the children relax before they read, Everetts said. At hospital rehab centers and hospice centers, Dickens would provide positive experiences for patients and staff.
“The dogs just are a calming presence and just totally non judgmental,” Everetts said.
Even at home, Dickens provided a relaxing presence, Everetts said. While he would follow her around during the day, even into the bathroom, at night, Dickens would curl up against Carol Everetts’s back in her bed.
“You could just feel the warmth coming through, it was just the most relaxing night to have,” she said. “He would do that every night and he would never make a noise to wake me up. I’ve never had a dog like that.”
Derby: An upcoming therapy dog star
Derby, the Everetts’ sixth therapy dog, was only 3-and-a-half-years-old when he died and had eyes that could “melt your heart and see through you,” Carol said.
Derby had passed his certification in June, even though he had belonged to the family since August 2018, and was certified with Dan Everett. But it took until September for Derby to start visiting the Sanford and Avera hospitals because they had to wait for his paperwork to come in.
During his first official therapy dog outing at the Dougherty Hospice House, Derby visited terminally ill patients and their families.
“It was just amazing. He just went to each person and they patted him and talked to him,” Everetts said. “He just clicked right there on his first visit.”
Derby was also able to visit the Sanford Emergency Department twice to provide support for staff. They originally confused him for Dickens, Everetts said, since he stood rock solid and let everyone pet him and shake his paw.
“They were just totally impressed with him,” she said.
Outpouring of sympathy for dogs ‘special’ to the Sioux Falls chapter of Therapy Dogs International
Everetts said she’s still not sure who hit her dogs, but thinks it’s water under the bridge.
Lincoln County Sheriff Sgt. Aaron Bartscher said that they had received a report that someone had struck the dogs when they were on the road. He wouldn’t say whether or not the driver of the vehicle stopped or not.
Bartscher said no charges will be filed.
The dogs will be clearly missed. Mary Jo Jaqua, the director of the Sioux Falls chapter of Therapy Dogs International, said it was a major loss and that the two dogs were special to the chapter.
Rebecca Conner, the volunteer manager for Sanford Health, wrote in a statement that Sanford was grateful for Carol, her therapy dogs and the time they spent “lifting the spirits of our patients.”
Last Tuesday, the family held a memorial service for the dogs with candles and friends for support. The Everetts have received dozens of flower bouquets from Sanford, Avera and others over the past week. Friends have sent letters, emails and texts of sympathy.
“It’s really overwhelming that they touch that many people’s lives,” Everetts said. “It’s nice to know that the little dogs actually are helping people.”