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Nicodemus, a dog that “makes a difference,” provides for special needs kids

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Rotary Club of Front Royal’s President Rick Novak welcomed therapy and crisis response dog Nicodemus and his handler Kris Campesi at a recent meeting.

A therapy and crisis response dog named Nicodemus – Nic for short – was a popular guest at a Rotary Club of Front Royal luncheon meeting last week, ably but nonchalantly demonstrating the talents he uses while dealing with special needs kids or people in crisis – think 9/11, hurricanes and floods.

Nic was particularly special to this writer upon discovering his birth date, March 10, was the same as mine, and according to handler Kris Campesi appears to have several favorite activities similar to some of my own. For example, good at giving kisses and getting petted; sleeping on his back; and playing fetch (just kidding!). However he’s 81 years younger than me and certainly more agile,handsome and laid back.

Nic, a golden retriever, is also well educated and is re-tested every couple of years. He has a full time job with Summit Therapy Animal Service, Herndon, Va., but lives at Lake Frederick with Campesi and spends most of his time in public schools working with special needs children. His certifications include AKC Canine Good Citizen; AKC Therapy Dog Excellent. He is additionally trained for HOPE, an animal-assisted emergency response team, as a pet partner. And he’s only four years old.

“These are dogs that make a difference,” Campesi said, referring to scientific studies of “Goldens” and other breeds trained for their jobs.

Meanwhile, in a brief talk after their 20-minute demonstration, Campesi shared her background, which includes a lifetime as a school teacher before taking early retirement prompted by  9/11. The tragedy in New York City sent her into crisis response work and intervention, specifically in hurricane emergencies and the training of dogs to accompany her. Left at home on this day was Nic’s companion, Titus,2, who ultimately will take over from Nicodemus when he retires. Another “Golden” in the pipeline is Micah. “I give all my dogs biblical names,” Campesi said.

Nic, she said, helps children – and some adults – affected by, say, a death in the family and the subsequent grief that is experienced. He has also helped with the dying at Inova Fairfax Hospital, she explained, and will comfort and “snuggle with” those in the last stages of life. On weekends, the pair provides a service to the District of Columbia’s Juvenile Detention Center’s young inmates for whom Nic’s visits also make a difference.

At the end of the presentation, Nic was sent out to each dining table to personally bid goodbye to his appreciative audience.

Afterward, while Kris and I talked, he did what all dogs do – lay down and slept. I said a fond goodbye to him, but he merely opened one eye then returned to his snooze.

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