Therapy in a small package
Two-legged dog motivates patients at local rehab center

Sharon Townsend, an occupational therapist, stands in the middle of a large physical therapy room waiting to get her day started.

As her patients begin to come in for afternoon therapy, all eyes are on not Townsend, but her dog - a 2-year-old Chihuahua.

Not many people have the opportunity to take their pet to work with them, but Townsend is an exception.

The tiny pup named Sarah accompanies the 37-year therapy veteran on her rounds at the Life Care Center of Gwinnett in Lawrenceville, bringing motivation and cheer to the patients.

Townsend said Sarah is not your average Chihuahua. She's not ornery, skittish or nervous when she's around people she doesn't know.

And there's something else that makes the small dog with golden fur unique: she was born without front legs.

"She's an inspiration," Townsend said. "She doesn't have front legs but she still walks."

Townsend said she often calls Sarah by her full name, Sarah Roo, because of her kangaroo-like walk.

According to Townsend, Sarah, who was dropped on a friend's doorstep, motivates her patients to try a little harder in therapy.

"It really helps kinda take your mind off of you," Townsend said. "I think that's what Sarah does, she really makes people feel good."

In the few years that Sarah has been visiting Life Care, Townsend said the dog has become the talk of the rehabilitation center.

Many patients simply refer to Townsend as the "lady with Sarah," and she said she's OK with that.

"So many people here love animals, but whoever responds to her is what I go with," Townsend said of people's reactions to Sarah. "She's the ambassador of Life Care."

Sarah visits the center at least once a week to spend time with patients in both rehab classes and patients' rooms.

After spending 311/2 weeks at Life Care recovering from pneumonia and emphysema, Donna Anderson said it lifted her spirits to see Sarah.

"I think it's a great idea to bring in pets like this," Anderson said. "It shows how courageous that little dog is, and encourages us all."

Townsend said most of the patients who flow through her rehab program are working on tasks to enable them to function on their own once they're sent home, such as dressing and other daily activities. She said Sarah is just what some of the patients need to see for a motivational boost.

"It brings out the best in people," Townsend said. "You'll see things in people you didn't know was in them."