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Great Dane makes the day

By Karen Colbenson

kcolbenson@postbulletin.com

Warren Gillis of Austin admits the volunteer work he does with his service dog Lurch can be tiring, even overwhelming, at times. But he continues to do it because he’s a strong advocate of helping other people.

Together, Gillis and Lurch, a 6-year-old Great Dane, are teammates in an effort to brighten the days of hospital patients, senior citizens and students around the area. A couple of their regular stops include Eugenio Litta Children’s Hospital at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and the assisted living center Cedars of Austin, where they socialize with patients and residents.

Cathy Ehley, activities director at Cedars, said Lurch’s presence has a profound effect on the residents, and especially those with Alzheimer’s disease.

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"When Lurch walks in, it’s like a new day for them," she said. "You can see in their eyes that they are happy and excited."

On the day Gillis chose Lurch, the runt of a large litter of puppies, he said he knew there was a connection between them.

"Lurch takes care of me when I get sick, he reminds me to take my medicine," Gillis said. "He knows when to be by my side and when to give me space. He is a fabulous dog."

Gillis recalled a time when they visited with a student who had trouble reading and was too afraid to read out loud in class because other students would tease him.

"But he read to Lurch," said Gillis, who also said Lurch has a natural way of calming people and easing their troubles.

"A dog is sometimes easier to talk to then a person," Gillis said. "Dogs don’t judge."

Gillis said a doctor at Mayo Clinic once called Lurch "the best pill for people."

Ehley said she is grateful for the work that Gillis and Lurch do at Cedars.

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"Our residents love when they come to visit," she said. "They are a wonderful team."

When asked what life would be like without Lurch, Gillis took a deep breath, paused, wiped away a tear and said, "It would be very hard. He has saved my life."

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