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Gifted Utah therapy dog ‘knew his mission was finished’
Animal therapy » Service dog, Capitol Hill regular, died in January.

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A dog and a boy » Retirement freed up time for Springmeyer and an opportunity to share Putter’s gifts with others.

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Pet therapist

There’s more demand in Utah for therapy dogs than there are capable pets, said Kathy Klotz, executive director at Intermountain Therapy Animals.

But not all dogs are good candidates. “It all pivots on the dog’s temperament. After that, skills can be taught, but it takes training,” she said.

An explanation of steps required to certify your pet can be found at www.therapyanimals.org.

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On visits to his terminally ill mother at a senior center, the attorney had noticed the cheer that his tiny white companion brought to the residents. "It would take me 20 to 30 minutes to get from the front door to my mom’s room," he said.

Putter enjoyed the attention, too, so Springmeyer had him certified through Intermountain Therapy Animals.

In the winter of 2012, on Putter’s first day as a therapy dog, the duo encountered a 10-year-old boy who was sitting alone in the lobby of the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute.

The boy’s father, a single dad with serious cancer, had driven eight hours the night before to get to the hospital for chemotherapy treatment, according to Kris Nelson, a social worker at Huntsman.

But it was flu season and kids weren’t allowed in the infusion room.

The boy had been sitting alone for hours when Putter approached him.

"I had not made much headway with this child … but the boy related that, ‘animals like me a lot,’ and asked questions about Putter, and [Springmeyer] and the boy had a nice long conversation about him being a rescue dog, and about the boy’s pet, all while the child was holding the dog in his lap," Nelson wrote in a "thank you" note to Springmeyer.

"The little boy left with a picture of Putter, and he was able to tell his dad stories about Putter, and this helped the dad feel better, too."

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‘The last dog he saw’ » At the U.’s burn center, Putter accomplished for a 3-year-old burn victim what therapists couldn’t.

The boy "was in such pain, and the physical therapist said there was nothing they could do to motivate him. But when he saw Putter, he said, ‘Can I take the dog for a walk?’ Springmeyer said.

While on "rounds" once at the U., Springmeyer dropped in on a 95-year-old in intensive care who happened to be Rep. Patrice Arent’s father. "He wasn’t comatose, but lethargic and drifting in and out, but when he saw Putter, he just really lit up. Putter was the last dog he saw," recalls the Millcreek Democrat.

In 2013, Springmeyer was hired to lead the government-relations team for Molina Healthcare of Utah and Putter became his Capitol Hill sidekick.

"The governor joked I was the only guy who got to bring his blankie with him," Springmeyer said. "If I had to create a shtick to make me an interesting person, I couldn’t have thought of a better one than Putter. ... He was definitely a part of me. Losing him was like losing an arm."

In November 2013 Springmeyer underwent surgery to implant electrodes in his brain to control his tremors. It worked.

But weeks after his recovery, Putter came down with a bacterial infection that antibiotics couldn’t kick.

"I visited him three times a day [for more than a week]," Springmeyer said. "He was in the oxygen tent in my arms and it was clear he was not going to recover, so we decided to stop interventions. Nature took its course and he was gone."

Springmeyer is healthy and tremor-free but he grieves for Putter.

The Springmeyers have had many pets and expect to welcome more to their home. But there will be no replacing Putter.

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