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Mollie E. Webb Speech and Hearing Center Using Therapy Dog

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Boomer's tail thumps against the floor as children crowd in for a canine kiss.

Four years after the low-slung, mixed-breed dog showed up at Mollie E. Webb Speech and Hearing Center in Shreveport, he's a star. New graduate students ask for him by name when they start classes at the center. He helps researchers at LSU Health Shreveport. He even has a birthday bash, a Facebook page and a resume.

"He wags his tail in his sleep," said Dr. Sandra Hayes. She was longing for a therapy dog when Boomer appeared one April morning, his right paw raised in pain. She and a student discovered a gun pellet under his skin and suspected other injuries from kicks or blows.

"His background? A total mystery. We assume he was abused to some degree, but he didn't hold that against people."

Hayes squatted, gazing at the dog that first morning, and he approached her with his tail wagging. When she invited him into the center, he entered without hesitation. A half hour later, Boomer had his name and a forever home with Hayes.

She had her therapy dog.

A friend with a therapy dog assessed Boomer's behavior six months after Hayes took him in. She gave Boomer a thumbs-up, and Hayes took the Basset-dachshund mix to school. In 2010, Boomer became a certified Pet Partners therapy dog.

Hayes sits on the floor, a loose hold on Boomer's leash, as he greets children in the Louisiana Association for the Blind's summer camp Wednesday. The nonprofit a few blocks from Hayes' office is one of Boomer's regular stops.

Kenneth Lattin, 9, grins as he strokes the dog after his sister, ShaKenya Lattin, has a turn.

"He's so soft. He's sweet. We have two dogs, Tiny and Sugar," said ShaKenya, 10. "Tiny is a Chihuahua. Sugar is big."

Boomer wears a vest when at work but sheds it to hang out at Hayes' office and at home with her other two dogs. He reminds her when she runs long in the classes she teaches by getting up and wandering around the classroom. He signals quitting time with a single "woof" every afternoon.

His wags and nuzzles reward children for working hard at speech therapy. He helps people of all ages get over their fear of dogs. He also helps Hayes teach youngsters about how to treat pets.

Boomer developed a deep bond with the late Dr. John McDonald, LSU Health Shreveport's first chancellor. The dog would pace slowly beside McDonald when the chancellor visited the center for therapy. Hayes even took Boomer to visit McDonald in the hospital during McDonald's final illness.

"It was the sweetest thing," Hayes said. "They really developed a bond. Boomer runs and plays with the other dogs, but he really likes the human stuff."

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