Thank you, goodbye to canine comfort squad - KMSP-TV

Thank you, goodbye to canine comfort squad

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It's just the two of them, but they have spent thousands of hours bringing comfort to Minnesotans who are hurting. Now, however, the tables have turned. The team of healers need comfort, and the community is eager.


Heaven-sent comfort:
Sasha's soothing grace:
Finding purpose:
Hope on a leash:

Some things defy reason; there are moments that make the soul marvel.

"It was truly a miracle," Mary Lou Iverson said.

Iverson's life changed when a driver fell asleep at the wheel and slammed into her car head-on.

"Many things I lost that day," she recalled.

She lost consciousness on impact, and her legs, feet and hands were crushed.

"I broke 20 bones," Iverson said.

Unable to move, she couldn't help Corey even though she could hear him whimpering in the back seat.

"It wasn't a child, but it was pretty darn close," she said.

Iverson's beloved dog took his last breath before emergency crews arrived. Later at the hospital, she became convinced she and her pet were both in heaven.

"All of a sudden, there were two paws that came up on the bed," Iverson remembered. "She started licking my face and I just started to cry."

That was no effect of the pain medication. A fluffy, white angel really did appear in her hospital room.

"I was happy," Iverson said. "I was in a lot of pain, but for some reason, I was just at peace and very happy, and I attribute that to the dog."

For 10 years, Dave Kettering and his dog Sasha have been making the rounds at local health care facilities.

"For most of her career, she's the one who picked out the people we saw," Kettering said. "She's the one who decided how she was going to interact with people."

The two spent thousands of hours comforting the sick and the dying. Sasha's gentle spirit and the feel of her deep, luxurious coat seemed to heal in ways that modern medicine could not.

However, the years of hopping on beds and walking long hallways have taken a toll.

"All of a sudden one morning, got up and she couldn't walk on one side at all," Kettering explained.

That means the canine comfort squad is no longer on patrol even though Kettering says Sasha still seems keen to try to make her rounds.

"Whenever I go out the door, she gives met his look like, 'Can I go with ya?'" he said.

Soon, the Ketterings will have to put their beautiful white angel out of her misery.

"Everybody's feeling really bad," Nancy Kettering, Dave's wife, admitted. "They don't want to lose her either, but we're going to."

It's a tough time, but the comforters are now becoming the comforted. Although Kettering is a modest man who blushes at the sound of a complement, cards of appreciation are piling up and old friends are stopping by to pay their respects.

Kadin's connection dates back five years to when Kettering took Sasha to meet a young boy with autism for the first time. Kadin was mesmerized by the feel of the dog's fluffy fur, and her gentle grace let him dive right in. That was a breakthrough moment in Kadin's development.

"It was the first time I saw interaction between him and something else that was alive," Marjorie Okerstrom explained.

They met often over the years, and Kadin always focused on Sasha. Kettering might as well have been another object in the room -- until the last visit, that is. When asked what the boy wanted to do, he walked over to Kettering and gave him a hug for the first time.

"It's not far-fetched to say Sasha and Dave have been there in some of the absolute darkest days that we ever had," Okerstrom said.

Sasha has a special way with children. The bond between the comfort squad and Sophie Flemming is almost akin to super glue. She was born with a rare genetic disorder and has recurring seizures. She wasn't expected to live past 5, but she's going on 12.

The hospital is an all-too-familiar place for Sophie, but Sasha and Kettering were quick to visit when she was hurting. In fact, they even made house calls to brighten her day.

Now, that favor has come full-circle -- and thanks to a computer she recently got that helps her communicate in words, Sophie can now explain the unconditional love she feels by staring at an icon so that the computer can speak the phrase associated with it.

There are three icons on the screen for her to choose from, and after the camera turns away and the adults in the room aren't watching, Sophie said what was in her heart.

"Thank you for loving me," she said.

For a decade, one man and his dog made a difference. Kettering chalks it all up to divine intervention. Who knew angels shed?

"Angels shed, absolutely," he said. "Angels shed."

With the end drawing near, everyone asks Kettering if he will keep volunteering once Sasha is gone.

"I really don't know what I'm going to do," he admitted. "We'll do something that's important to people, I think."

The legacy of the comfort squad will live on, even if Kettering doesn't get another dog.

"I said to myself, 'If I ever get out of here and if I ever can walk again, I'm going to do that,'" Iverson said.

Iverson said she was so moved by how Kettering and Sasha touched her life that she wanted to start her own pet therapy team. Now, she and Bart are regular visitors at local hospitals -- proving that as angels shed, they also work in pairs.

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