By Dedra Cordle
While in the comfort of their home base in Grove City, basset hounds Marlo, Marley and Malley appear to be regular dogs.
They bark. They lick. They jump. They sometimes drool.
They enjoy following their human, Melinda Capers, around the house begging for treats or attention, though it is likely both they desire and simultaneously at that.
They like to race and use their long and stout bodies to jockey for the best spot on their new (and heavily fortified) couch in order to watch the goings on in their neighborhood. Squirrels are the enemy.
They dream of a day where they are small enough to fit through the door flap to the basement where their cat sister Katie spends most of her time. One basset, who shall remain nameless, knows she is the cause for this closed-door separation as she has trouble saying no to the prize in the litter box.
As they gallop through the house – oftentimes together – they give wide berth to their older, adopted basset sister Libby, who can only tolerate their presence for a few minutes.
It is a warm, loving and lively scene in the Capers household, but when the bassets see Melinda bring out their special collars, when they are placed inside their marked vehicle, when they walk through quiet halls of healing, they cast aside their boisterous home personalities and slip into a different mode – their alter egos, if you will.
When 9-year-old Marlo – whose lone, red spot on the top of her head was once deemed “God’s thumbprint of approval” by a man Melinda met – steps into a specially designated area at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, she scans the room for the smallest person there.
“She is drawn to infants,” Capers said.
Marlo’s innate love for children was first discovered when Capers’s friends brought their newborn over for a visit.
“The baby started crying and Marlo walked over and just wrapped herself around its body,” she said.
That moment of subconscious comfort is what prompted Capers to see if Marlo had the right temperament and the potential to become a therapy dog. She did.
At 2-years-old, Marlo became a certified therapy dog, following in the paw prints of Abbey (a shepherd mix), Shygirl (a greyhound) and Mabel (a basset) Capers. She has been providing comfort to sick children and adults ever since.
“I believe she was born to do what she is doing,” said Capers.
Currently unable to visit the hospital due to a bacterial infection, Marlo cannot wait for it to clear up so she can be reunited with a young patient who has been at the hospital almost as long as she has been volunteering (2008).
When 8-year-old Marley – a “tomboy” who likes to sit outside in the rain – goes into the room at Children’s, she turns into an even bigger moosh ball.
“She wants her belly rubbed and she likes to snuggle,” said Capers.
When one stops rubbing that big, furry belly, Marley starts to voice her displeasure.
“She mumbles, like she’s telling them to keep going,” said Capers.
People quickly pick up the cues.
Marley loves to use her voice to talk to those in her care and that trait has made a few poignant moments.
Recently, Capers took Marley to visit an ill relative in Cleveland. She climbed into bed with Melinda’s cousin, began to mumble to her and elicited sounds from someone who had lost their ability to speak.
“They spoke to each other and had their own heart-to-heart,” said Capers. “It was a really nice image to be left with.”
Marley was certified in 2009. She has received hundreds of belly rubs.
Three-year-old Malley, who is as sweet as the Cleveland-based candy shop from which she was named, is new to the therapy dog program. When she is at the hospital, she morphs into a mixture of her blood relatives.
“She is the best parts of Marley and Marlo,” said Capers. “She has the caring and concerned nature and the love of babies that Marlo has, and she has Marley’s watchful eyes and ears.”
Malley is fond of the toys the children bring to the therapy room, but not so much that she wants to snatch them away.
“She just likes to see what is going on.”
Malley is currently learning how to press buttons on toys because she loves an attentive audience.
Much like her bassets, Capers takes pleasure in being involved in the pet therapy program. She has loved animals her entire life, but it wasn’t until her mother relayed a story about a dying boy who just wanted to see his dog while he was in the hospital that she was inspired to bring animals to those in need of comfort.
“It really stuck with me that this boy couldn’t have the one thing that he really wanted,” she said.
“It just hits you – how much having a dog around can mean to someone.”
The same can be said for the dog. And in the case of Marlo, Marley and Malley, they insist on meaning something to every person they come across. It could take a while, but they are very stubborn and unafraid to give those hard to resist basset looks until their mission is accomplished.