Mandy Weikert wasn’t ready to fall in love with another older dog.
She told herself that on the March afternoon she drove from her home near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to the heart of Baltimore. She told herself that as she sat outside the squat, gray headquarters of Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCs), in the shadow of M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens.
And she told herself that as the door leading out of BARCs opened and a smiling brown-and-white pit bull was lead onto the play area of BARCS.
“I was just afraid. It was hard to go there, because it reminded me of my last dog and I was convinced I would never have that connection again,” said Weikert. “When she came out she was just goofy, she was running around and falling off things and just perfect. She made me laugh. And I just thought ‘She is always going to make me laugh…’ ”
Little did she, or anyone, know, Lady would also make dozens of other people – most with seemingly little reason for joy – laugh.
Still, Laura Griffiths, volunteer coordinator for BARCS, knew Lady was special. That’s why it broke her heart when visitors to BARCS passed by the cage holding Lady, opting to adopt one of the many other available dogs.
“I knew when I met Lady that she would be a great match for Mandy and [her fiancé Chris Kimple],” said Griffiths, who met Weikert when she arranged the adoption of Weikert’s first dog. “And it was love at first sight.”
As soon as Griffiths introduced Lady to her new family, it was clear there was a love connection. Lady jumped and rolled over for belly rubs and Weikert just laughed and laughed.
Due to the volume of animals at BARCs – there are more than 11,000 animals brought into the shelter each year – Griffiths can’t always reach out to people she think would be excellent adoptees. But something in Lady compelled her to call Weikert.
“It was one of those magical adoptions you wish every dog had,” the coordinator said. “When she took Lady, there was a procession of volunteers and staff saying goodbye to Lady.”
Of course, when Weikert and Kimple welcomed Lady into their home they had no idea how the four-year-old pit bull would react.
“I brought her home and she walked right in the house like she owned the place,” said Mandy. “I kept waiting for the ball to drop. ‘Why is she not afraid, not anxious ripping up this place? Why is she so comfortable?’ ”
As surprising as that was, the real revelation came when Lady accompanied Weikert to work as a nurse at FHL Blood and Cancer Specialists in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Lady so closely resembles Weikert’s previous dog that patients assumed it was the same comfort canine, and Lady was happy to step into the role.
“Before I’m even ready, she is out sitting by the car. She brings them the same things she brings me,” said Weikert. “She makes people laugh and makes people smile and makes people forget why they are there. When they are with Lady, they are not cancer patients anymore. They are just people who are happy.”
Lady, who is now a regular at Weikert’s job, doesn’t force herself on people receiving treatment. She seemingly intuits a patient’s need for comfort and curls up next to them or happily wags and grins at them. And, of course, accepts pats and belly rubs.
Bailey Deacon, BARC’s director of communications, said that Lady’s story underscores the value of shelter pets.
“The reason this story is so big is that it’s an amazing example of what shelter pets can do. Shelter pets are not broken animals,” she said. “When people come to a shelter, they are looking for comfort and care. Lady is a service animal not just to one person but to every person that comes through that clinic.”