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Dog offers comfort

Little Bear knows more tricks than Shannon Stabler Linden can remember.

“I have to make a list of them,” she said.

Linden and Little Bear performed Tuesday for residents of Cedar Hill Assisted Living at Vaughn Place in the Alzheimer patient area.

Performing since 2005, Little Bear, a 7-year-old half toy poodle and half Shih Tzu, has brought smiles and laughter to people in more than 30 assisted living centers and hospitals in Alabama and Georgia.

When he was 1 month old, Little Bear could retrieve a ball. By 4 months, he was walking on hind legs. “He’s a very fast learner,” Linden said.

Once he passed his Happy Tails Pet Therapy certification — on the second try — Little Bear went to work.

“I work 10 minutes a day with him,” Linden said. “He almost won’t do a trick for me without a treat anymore. He doesn’t work for free.”

Through this training, Little Bear will do things on command like retrieving, by name, a towel, fish bowl, check or leash; tear up a box and clean up the pieces; play a toy piano; jump over a stick or through a hoop; and wave.

“In specialty care we don’t go out into the world,” said Dianne King, activity director at Cedar Hill. “The world has to come to us.”

Little Bear performs once a month at Cedar Hill, alternating each month between the assisted living area and the Alzheimer’s area.

Linda MacKay, the daughter of a resident, enjoyed seeing the plethora of tricks.

“You just get these real feelings of comfort from seeing a little dog,” MacKay said. “It gets their endorphins going from the laughing.”

And spectators do laugh. Interjections of “He’s so cute” from the audience peppered his performance.

Resident Jo Gamble said she enjoyed watching Little Bear play a toy piano the most.

“I enjoyed it because of the doggie,” Gamble said. “Golly, I’d love to see him again.”