If you look closely at the collars of Kim and Kris Gerlach’s dogs, you’ll see a round yellow tag on two of them. On that tag are four words: “I’m a Therapy Dog”. The Gerlachs take a lot of pride in the work they do with their dogs, Victor and Nikki. Lady, their newest addition, will likely follow in the paw prints of her adopted big brother and sister.
The Gerlachs were interested in adopting a dog in 2009 when they saw pictures of Victor on the Secondhand Hounds website, a Minnesota-based rescue group. They weren’t looking for a particular type of dog. “I figured if we’re getting a dog, let’s get one that really needs a home,” said Kim. Kim and Kris adopted Victor first, and when they realized his sister, Nikki, was still available for adoption, they adopted her two months later. The brother-sister pair are quite opposite in appearance, but nearly inseparable.
Victor and Nikki are nearly six-years-old now, and their life is drastically different than it was in the winter of 2009. Victor is light brown in color, and his eye color is nearly identical to his coat. Nikki is brindle in color, and she’s a bit bigger than her brother. When the dogs were just a few months old, they were found inside a dumpster in North Minneapolis. Someone had discarded the puppies, three total, and the puppies’ mother. Luckily, a passerby noticed the dogs, and they were soon in the care of Secondhand Hounds.
The Gerlachs had no previous experience with “pit bulls” prior to adopting Victor and Nikki, but despite reading negative things about them in the media in the past, Kim didn’t let that deter his opinion of a dog in need of a home. “I remember thinking, ‘Who would own a dog like that?’ said Kim. And rather than let a stereotype persuade him, he had his own opinion. “I realized they’re just dogs,” said Kim. Victor and Nikki didn’t need any other labels.
When Kim and Kris were training Victor and Nikki in 2012 (named after characters on “The Young and the Restless”), they wanted the dogs to receive their Canine Good Citizen certification from the American Kennel Club. Both dogs passed the test on the first try. Therapy dog testing was also taking place, so the Gerlachs decided to see how Victor and Nikki would to. Both passed that test on the first try too.
“It’s the best thing we’ve ever done with the dogs,” said Kris. “We got a lot of encouragement from others. Plus, we knew other people who had therapy dogs, and once we got to know the dogs’ personalities, we didn’t see anything those other dogs had that ours didn’t.” The Gerlachs take a lot of pride in therapy dog work. Kris brings Nikki to an average of three events per month, and Kim brings Victor to two events per month. “I enjoy seeing someone who gets joy out of petting the dogs,” said Kim.
Kim enjoys bringing Victor to visits at the state hospital in St. Peter, MN. Kris often brings Nikki to nursing homes. At therapy visits, Nikki tends to sit on the feet of the person she’s visiting with. She’ll face away, and calmly absorb the love and attention she receives. “Older people see the dogs as dogs. The breed stereotyping wasn’t an issue back then,” said Kris. “The older generation doesn’t judge them as much. They enjoy their company.” Other places the dogs have visited include: the YMCA, a children’s museum, hospitals, Cub Scouts, and LEEP, a Mankato (Minnesota) based group that supports the Special Olympics and programs for teens, and also a camp for children who have lost a parent.
When the Gerlachs aren’t doing therapy dog visits, they stay involved with other canine activities. Kim trains Victor in agility, and both Victor and Nikki compete in lure coursing, a sport in which a mechanically operated lure is attached to a string. The dogs chase the lure for 600 yards as it’s pulled in various directions. Victor loves this particular sport. “It puts him in a whole other world,” said Kim. “He absolutely loves running the course, and tends to make odd sounds similar to woodies from Star Wars.”
Lady is fawn in color with a bit of black around her muzzle, and is the smallest of the trio. She was rescued from a breeding operation in the twin cities. Several of the puppies from this litter were found chained to tires outside or sleeping on the concrete floor of the basement in a home in Minneapolis. Lady has thrived since she was rescued. She fit into the Gerlachs’ home so well, they decided to adopt her after fostering her for a few months in July, 2015. She was just seven months old when she became an official member of the Gerlach household.
Aside from sports and therapy dog work, the dogs are perfectly content settling in at home for some time to relax. Each of the dogs has their own favorite toy or special quirk. Victor excels at jumping. From sitting, Victor can easily spring up to be face-level with Kim, who’s over six feet tall. Victor’s favorite toy is a ball. Nikki loves playing with the puppies Kim and Kris have fostered. She’s calm and understands she needs to play gently with the foster pups they’ve taken in. Lady is calm and confident, but still learning the rules in the Gerlach household. When asked what Lady’s favorite toys are, Kris shook her head and said, “Cords…” Lady has chewed up a few items that puppies seem to be drawn to, but she’s growing and learning.
Victor, Nikki and Lady are all napping after their four-mile walk. Their toes and tails twitch as they dream, and one can only wonder about what the dogs’ dreams are about. Perhaps it’s lure coursing, agility, or a therapy dog visit. Whatever those dreams consist of, it’s clear all three dogs are quite happy, well trained, socialized and content in the Gerlach household.
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Wallace the Pit Bull Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of dogs and the people who care for them.