by Bob Boston ’56
On Christmas Day in 1999, a five-month-old golden retriever came into our home. She was a retirement present from my wife. Providentially a new career was about to begin.
When Holly was three years old just out of her puppy and adolescent stage, I was asked to supply at the Presbyterian Village, a retirement community in Summerville, SC. While they were seeking a new chaplain, I agreed to come for a couple of months if I could bring my dog. We stayed for five years.
From our very first day Holly was received with open arms. With her gentleness, charm, and unconditional love, along with her wistful eyes and perpetual golden retriever smile, she won the hearts of both staff and residents. Holly would accompany me on my visits throughout the village. She seemed to possess an intuitive sense as to who liked dogs and who did not. She would approach those who did (approximately 90 percent) by putting her head at their sides, in their laps, or on the side of the bed depending on the circumstance. She would walk quietly by those who did not seem to care for dogs.
When Holly was not with me she stayed in the chaplain’s office lying on her pallet with a bowl of water by her side. Residents would often drop by to pet her and give her a hug or a treat. When I was without Holly I was greeted more times than not with “Where is Holly?” And when she was with me, she was always greeted first. When I mentioned this to a group of residents, one dear, sweet lady said, “Maybe it’s because Holly knows how to say I love you without making a long speech.” The late Bob Tapp, founder and first president of the Home, called Holly the chaplain and me her assistant.
Whenever Holly attended worship services, she wore a scarf made by Donna Glisson, an independent resident. The scarf had an embroidered cross that matched the stoles worn by the choir. On numerous occasions Holly was invited by a family to attend a memorial service. This she did with grace and dignity—with one exception: while sitting at attention at the graveside in the National Cemetery in Beaufort, SC, Holly barked when she heard the first shot of a 21-gun salute.
I retired in June of 2007 for health reasons, and it seemed to me that the sentiment was “we can find a new chaplain, but we cannot replace Holly.” So I retired but Holly has continued to work. While we were still at the Village, I had her evaluated by an observer from Therapy Dogs, Inc. She passed with honors and became a nationally registered therapy dog, which allows her access and privilege in many public places and institutions.
In addition, Holly is nationally registered as a Reading Education Assistance Dog. Research has shown that children who read to animals learn quicker and comprehend better because animals listen attentively, don’t judge, laugh, or criticize, and allow children to proceed at their own pace. Holly has been going to the Hanahan Elementary School on Wednesday morning for the past two years listening to first-grade students read. Following her reading class, Holly visits a self-contained class of autistic children. The children are rewarded for good behavior with dog treats for Holly, so this is her favorite class. An eight year old boy spoke in class for the first time when he saw Holly. He said loudly, “doggie,” and since then his vocabulary has continued to increase.
Holly is also registered in the therapy program at the Children’s Hospital of the Medical University of South Carolina and at the Veteran’s Hospital in Charleston. Every Friday Holly makes grand rounds at the VA nursing home and mental health clinic, and she visits individual rooms.
A CBS television station in Charleston periodically awards an individual for distinguished service to the community with induction in the Channel 5 Hall of Fame. This year Holly was the first dog ever to receive the award.