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Chapin area resident writing a book chronicling his years raising service dogs

Chapin, SC (Kendall Nuttall) - No matter how badly we would all love to stay young forever spending time with our true soulmates, time continues on. As a couple, you buy a home, have children that will eventually leave the nest, and then you start preparing for the final chapter of life. It’s all usually seamless, the changes subtle, and sometimes even unnoticeable.

For some, the changes are welcome. Retirement, perhaps travelling together, the birth of grandchildren, volunteering, and just growing old together with that someone you love are all life’s milestones couples eventually hope to enjoy. Living these life events together as a team is often what puts the gold in those “Golden Years.” Unfortunately for others, life can also have some unplanned turns that if allowed, will turn the “Golden Years” into tin, and transform that storybook ending into something sinister and unpleasant.

In a way, an unexpected twist such as this is what threatened Chapin area resident John “J.T.” Thompson’s pleasant epilogue. Just as he and his beloved wife of 47 years Kathy were getting comfortable with their closing chapter, Kathy was diagnosed with dementia. Eventually, J.T. had to make the difficult but realistic decision that he just wasn’t able to care for her himself anymore. He had to find a nursing home that could best meet both their needs.

After his wife became a resident of a facility close to their home, J.T. would visit regularly hoping that this visit would be the instance where the old Kathy would return with her smile, a laugh, or speak about memories of something they lived through together. Perhaps during this visit, the clouds of dementia would part and the bright, fun, and witty woman J.T. married 47 years ago would return, if just for a fleeting moment.

As time went on, J.T. subconsciously looked for ways to make Kathy laugh, smile, and tried his best to bring back some forgotten memory of their brighter days together. Kathy and J.T. had raised five golden retrievers when they were younger, and he knew that was something they had happily shared between them. One day, while visiting Kathy, J.T. ran into a woman who happened to have a golden retriever puppy with her. He couldn’t help but remember those precious times with Kathy so he stopped the pup’s owner and asked her if she would bring the beautiful dog by Kathy's room. Without hesitation, she agreed!

After setting the puppy named Bobby down next to Kathy, the dog immediately leaned over and started licking her face and arm. Kathy began to laugh. This was the first time J.T. had seen her laugh like that in a long time. Both J.T. and the woman who brought the puppy by the room noticed how happy and upbeat Kathy suddenly had become. Old memories flooded back and J.T. once again had the younger version of his wife back, even if it was just for a moment.

J.T. thanked the woman who had the puppy profusely and asked her who she was. The introduced herself as Melissa Yetter. She is the founder and owner of The Service Dog Institute (TSDI). She informed J.T. that Bobby need a puppy parent and asked J.T. if he was interested in fostering him. After seeing the way Kathy had transformed in just a single moment with Bobby, J.T. couldn't imagine saying no.

Throughout the following years and until her death in 2014, Kathy was introduced to Bobby, Benson, and Winston. All were just puppies who had no service training when J.T. received them. Each gave Kathy a special meaning and brought her happiness in her final years. It meant everything to J.T. just to see her smile and laugh as she enjoyed visiting with her husband and these dogs.

J.T. fosters Golden Retriever puppies still today. He keeps them for as long as they need training. That training is completed by a small, specialized kennel in upstate South Carolina.

After the puppies grow up and are certified as service dogs, they are sent to families and kids who need them. J.T. takes an active role in introducing these special dogs to these families. Spending time with these dogs and getting to know their new families still touches J.T.'s heart the way that it did when Kathy met that first puppy and laughed.

Over the years, J.T. has been writing about his experiences with each of these dogs. Each story also includes J.T.’s fond memories of every adoptive family who’s received one. In them, he speaks of how the dogs have drastically changed and improved the lives of a child and the people who care for and love the children and the service dogs. Now, he is putting all these stories together into one heartwarming book.

Sadly, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, J.T. has not been able to finish and publish his book so he can share his stories with others. Family interviews have been paused and a final publication date is still unknown.

J.T. has already set up a trust so that after publication, all the proceeds from book sales will go directly to The Service Dog Institute. Hopefully, the trust will help have an impact on the organization that did so much for Kathy and J.T. during their final time together.

You can find out more about The Service Dog Institute, make a donation, or offer to help in other ways by going to their website. It can be found at www.theservicedoginstitute.org. Once J.T. does finish his book, we will update you on where you can get a copy.

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