BAYARD - “Happiness is a warm puppy...,” Peanuts character Lucy van Pelt proclaimed of America’s most beloved beagle, Snoopy, in a 1960’s iconic comic strip. It bears noting that if a dog could warm the heart of the famously opinionated foil of Charlie Brown, the love of a dog is a powerful thing, indeed.
But Jerry Fegler, a computer tech for Platte Valley Companies, knows that firsthand.
Fegler based his search for a dog on another famous pooch, Lassie from the long-running hit tv program named for the title character.
“I was always fascinated with how Lassie would interact with people, and make a positive impact on their lives,” said Fegler, noting that he was also intrigued with the skills it took to train Lassie to do the incredible things she did.
Fegler says that while he looked at Collies and then German Shepherds in his search for a good match, he encountered, “quite by accident” a three year old Belgian Tervuren named Faith owned by breeder Melody Jensen and her husband, Leon, in Fairbury, Nebraska.
Tervurens are characterized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as agile herding dogs known for their intelligence, energy, and elegance.
“I found Faith to be extremely intelligent and trainable. More importantly, she had one of the most sweet, loving personalities you could ask for. Those were the qualities I wanted most from a dog. You could say I found my Lassie,” declared Fegler.
Fegler was encouraged by Faith’s breeder and some of his friends to get involved in some American Kennel Club events which they having been doing for about four or five years, recalls Fegler.
“We started with a Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) test, then some confirmation events, and most recently, an AKC ‘Rally,’” explains Fegler.
He continues, “The Rally event is a ‘team’ sport where you and your dog navigate a course, side-by-side, through a course of 10 to 20 signs. Each sign provides instructions for the next skill or movement to be performed. It’s all about how well you work as a team to perform with the dog under control.”
“Faith and I found ‘Rally’to be fun and interesting,” reports Fegler.
“We have done it a few times. Recently, we managed to earn a ‘Title’when we competed in Cheyenne, competing twice there with two first-place wins.”
Fegler says a ‘Title’ is a permanent recognition earned when a dog has competed successfully at least three times.
“It is a certificate, an honorary letter that is forever added onto part of the dog’s legal name,” he explains.
As fun as competition has been, Fegler says he and Faith discovered an even more rewarding pursuit while visiting an Aunt in one of the local nursing homes.
“I thought she might like to see Faith. We came to visit her and it went extremely well.”
He says more visits followed and soon he and Faith were interacting with the other residents, as well.
“Even after my Aunt was no longer at the facility, the staff there asked me to keep coming back,” he says, recalling their pleasure in how well the residents were responding and the effect Faith was having on them.
Chimney Rock Villa Administrator, Kim Burry says that while she is not usually present when Faith and Jerry come to call on residents, they really appreciate him taking the time to come because she knows that the residents appreciate and enjoy it.
“This is what began for us, a ‘ministry’ of nursing home visitation - or ‘pet therapy,’ you could call it,” says Fegler.
Soon they were visiting other nursing facilities in the area.
“I was witnessing, firsthand, the incredible impact a dog could make in the lives of people, some of whom are withdrawn, depressed, or unresponsive. During our visits, Faith would brighten a resident’s day in a way no human could.”
Fegler observes that Faith could not have a better name.
“She truly has been a gift of God to me, and to the people who have been enriched by her presence in the nursing home,” he notes.
One of those who enjoyed Jerry and Faith’s visits was Bayard Chimney Rock Villa resident, Maurine Berdan, who has since passed away. In its own way, the ministry appeared to work both ways.
“Maurine always had some words of encouragement to me,” he recalls. “I treasured every visit we had.”
Jerry Fegler and Faith reside in Bayard and are regulars at the Chimney Rock Villa on the weekends, he says. They also have a regular visiting schedule at Heritage Estates in Gering. He says they also occasionally drop in at the Veterans’ Home is Scottsbluff.
“The visitation ministry is really the most fulfilling thing I have ever done,” says Fegler.
“We are making an impact on peoples’ lives, many of whom have little contact with people outside the facility they are in. People will really open up when they see a dog, and you can really talk to them.I have had wonderful, meaningful visits with people.
“On occasion, I can talk about my faith and trust in God. Some people are very open to conversations about that. In my visits with Maurine, we frequently talked about Heaven, and what it will be like there. And she is there now,” Fegler concludes, simply.