Patriot was three months old when Kevin Marlin (pictured with Patriot) first met the then-small Siberian husky puppy through a local rescue.
“He was just a scrawny little guy,” said Marlin, who is executive director for Huntington Beach-based Orange County SPCA (OCSPCA) and its therapy dog program manager.
The dog showed many signs of abuse—the most obvious being lacerations around his muzzle as if someone had wrapped the puppy’s mouth with some type of wiring.
But Patriot’s story was just beginning. He was treated with antibiotics for infections and had surgery on his lower lips to seal up areas that Marlin described as “shredded.” Then the emotional healing began. Marlin noticed Patriot was very hand-shy around people. In order to help overcome this, Marlin coated his own hands with peanut butter.
It didn’t take long for Patriot to overcome that hurdle. As the husky surpassed milestones, Marlin increased the socialization process by taking the puppy out to public adoption events. “He felt protected, he felt safe,” said Marlin.
The idea of Patriot becoming a pet therapist just sort of happened when he was about 1. “I never had intended for him to be a therapy dog,” Marlin said. “I just wanted to help him to see that [there] are good people in the world.”
Since becoming a certified therapy dog, the now 6-year-old, 60-pound Patriot has conducted at least 500 visits for pet therapy, 30 of those through the PAWS Assist the Needs of the District Attorney (PANDA) program. PANDA is a newer OCSPCA therapy program that began in 2015 that uses therapy dog teams from its Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) program to provide comfort to children of sexual abuse during Orange County District Attorney’s Office meetings in preparation for cases.
“We say that maybe that’s his revenge on his abusers,” said Marlin. Now instead of being a victim himself, Patriot helps others who have been abused and need his love and support—many of whom are children.
In addition to the PANDA program, Patriot offers support at a battered women’s and children’s shelter and at Orangewood, helping support children who experience neglect and abuse. “They can really identify with him as being an inspiration of hope,” said Marlin. “He survived his abuse and went on to be OK.”
Marlin recalled heart-wrenching stories of the children he and Patriot visit. “I had one girl that just killed me,” he said. The girl, who was part of a PANDA program visit, asked what happened to Patriot. Marlin told her, to which she responded: “‘I was abused too and maybe we can get through this together,’” Marlin said.
There was another girl through the PANDA program who had to testify in court. Currently PANDA therapy teams can’t accompany witnesses when they go in on stand. As a substitute, Marlin had a friend spin together Patriot’s fur to give to the girl as a makeshift bracelet that she could hold for comfort. He was told that throughout her testimony, the girl kept looking down at the bracelet and petting it.
The therapy sessions can get very emotional, but Marlin gets through it with Patriot at his own side. “It is tough for sure,” he said.
But life isn’t all about dealing with serious issues for Patriot. In fact, he lives quite the life of leisure with the pack of seven other Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes in the home.
“A lot of the kids kind of tend to feel sorry for him,” Marlin said. But he tells them not to feel bad for him: “He has the most spoiled life ever.”
The Orange County SPCA, located in Huntington Beach, works with rescues and shelters in the area and offers many community programs, including pet-assisted therapy like PANDA. It is not affiliated with the ASPCA. | ocspca.com
By Jessica Peralta