CALMING COMPANIONS: A family pet brings comfort to a sick father and healing to a grieving family

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There’s just something about animals and the effect they have.  They make us smile and laugh, and when animals show up at retirement communities, they take people back in time.  And in a way, so do pet owners like Toshia Garnes.  “I remember he came home from work saying, I’ve got a friend who has these puppies and we can have one,” she says with a laugh.  That was more than ten years ago, before Toshia was married to her husband Ivyl.  “He was caring and loving and sweet and treated me like an absolute queen.”

Ivyl was diagnosed with cancer right after their two year wedding anniversary.  They never imagined what the next several years would bring.  The cancer returned six times, but Ivyl’s outlook was remarkable.  He was encouraged by family, friends and faith … and his dog.  “When Ivyl got sick and had to be home, Zazz became his companion,” Toshia explains, “she was there and giving love and it made the days go better.  It’s amazing how you don’t think of a dog as a caregiver, but she was very in-tune… she knew when Ivyl was having a bad day.”

The bad days ended in February.  Zazz was an honorary pall-bearer at Ivyl’s funeral.  “She had just as much of a hard time with Ivyl not being around as the kids and I,” says Toshia, “she didn’t like being left in the house by herself.”

It was Toshia’s daughter Cassandra who decided to get everyone out of the house by getting Zazz trained.  Soon she went from being a lap dog to a therapy dog.  “Getting out and helping others gives us as much satisfaction as it does others.  We learned a lot from all those years as caregivers and if we keep all that information to ourselves, then Ivyl suffered for nothing.”

Through all the rounds of chemo and radiation, Ivyl taught the people around him some valuable lessons.  The life he lived is still having an impact on both sides of the leash and his spirit lives on through his beloved pet.

There are two organizations in Iowa that train dogs specifically for therapeutic use - Therapy Dogs International and the Delta Society.  You can read more about the individual test items at: and


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