On a Sunday afternoon last April, two-year-old James Lantry wandered from his Silver Spring home to play in the nearby woods, where he often went with his father, Bill, to skip stones in the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia.
He was gone for about ten minutes before Bill and wife Kate realized he’d left the house. Something else was wrong: The family dogs—eight-year-old Brisi, a miniature Australian shepherd, and Belle, a four-year-old border collie—were gone, too.
Expecting the worst, Bill headed to the river, which was fast and deep from spring rains. After a few minutes, he heard a bark and saw Belle running toward him. “I asked her, ‘Where’s James?’ ” he says. “She turned around and led me farther down the path, just like in a Lassie movie.”
James was about a quarter of a mile from home, his feet soaked from standing in the water and his arms scraped from branches. Brisi was by his side.
Bill says the dogs, both working breeds, have always been protective of his son. Though kept in the family’s yard, they had jumped the gate to follow James. They’d been reprimanded in the past for escaping, but Bill is glad the lesson didn’t stick.
“In my book,” he says, “they’ve earned their keep forever.”
At 40 inches, Gracie is too small to be ridden. But for the special-needs and disabled kids who visit her, she’s perfect for a hug.
A UK Shetland pony, Gracie is part of the national nonprofit Personal Ponies. Gracie and four other UK Shetlands live on the ten-acre Barnesville, Maryland, farm of Denise Chasin, assistant national director for the group.
“The ponies will stand for hours being brushed or hugged or kissed,” says Chasin.
Thirteen-year-old Abigail Warran drives an hour each way with her mom from their Kensington home for regular visits. Abigail has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism that makes it hard for her to understand facial cues and read social situations. Her visits to the ponies over the past year have worked magic, she says: “I can’t really explain it, but I feel like I’ve gained more confidence since being around them.”
This year, Abigail’s going to help younger kids who visit the farm. She also is designing a Personal Ponies Internet game to raise money for the organization.
The ponies make me happy,” she says. “I want to be able to help make other kids happy, too.”
Scooby’s nose protects lives. The chocolate Labrador, a bomb-sniffing dog with the US Capitol Police, patrols the Capitol, congressional offices, the Library of Congress, and other buildings with handler Kenny Hill.
The Capitol Police use about 50 dogs—mostly hard-working German shepherds and Labs—for patrol work, explosives detection, and search and rescue. Scooby’s reward for a job well done is play time with his ball. “Dogs in this line of work need to have a high play drive,” says Hill. “It’s the motivation—the desired goal—that keeps them focused on what they have to do.”
Eight-year-old Scooby, one of the oldest dogs on the force, was rescued from a Maryland shelter in 2001 and hit the street after five months of training. Hill says Scooby still has the energy of a puppy: “He enjoys coming to work every day. He knows he has an important mission.”
This article is part of Washingtonian's Pets Guide package. Click here to read more about pet experts, dog walkers, groomers, and more.