The Children's Institute Blog

Vote for Leo, The Children's Institute Therapy Dog!

Posted: Mar 23, 2018 by The Children's Institute


That’s the battle-cry of Linda Shooer, the Moon Township, Pa. resident whose 11 ½ -year-old Portuguese Water Dog named – you guessed it – Leo is in the running for the 2018 American Humane Hero Dog Award. The winner, who is crowned based on vote totals online, will fly to Beverly Hills for their moment on the red carpet and on TV.

But Leo is no show dog.

For the past 10 years, Leo has been volunteering at The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh, engaging originally with our Prader-Willi Syndrome population but, more recently, providing pet therapy to kids in The Day School. They walk in, pet him, and love him. He loves them back.

“He’s very, very gentle. As much as he is spunky and energetic, there’s a gentle side to him,” said Linda, who works in professional development at Carnegie Mellon University. “When he’s around children, they just seem to bond together.”

Leo was trained and certified as a therapy pet through Therapy Dogs International when he was just one year old.

“For a little while, we did nursing homes, stuff like that, but there was something driving within me that wanted him to interact with kids who could benefit from his love, his joy,” Linda said. “He just understands these kids.”

“[Leo] met a young girl who had completely shut down, had not spoken for days,” Linda wrote in part of Leo’s nominating statement. “Leo was extremely gentle with her and was fascinated by her beaded necklace. She allowed him to get close enough to sniff the necklace and give her a kiss on the face. He wagged his tail incessantly and she smiled while remaining silent. When it came time for us to leave, she grabbed my arm and very softly said, ‘I love Leo.’ It was a moment that I and the nurses would never forget.”

For as caring as he is, Leo is also rather mischievous at home – “a maniac,” Linda laughs. “He took the remote control and buried it, and now I can’t watch TV,” she’d frequently joke with the kids.

When Leo worked with inpatients, he’d frequently dress up for Halloween based on their requests – the devil, Batman, a pirate complete with hat, hook and mounted parrot. He also was a frequent subject of photographs; Linda often made prints of Leo and the kids for them as a keepsake.

“The parents would say, ‘Leo’s all over my refrigerator!,’” she said.

“I think [Leo’s visits] are wonderful,” said Cathy Brdar, a Day School teacher for the past 23 years, as Leo was being walked by one of her pre-teen male students with autism. “It gives a lot of the kiddos the chance to do something different. A lot of the kids – it calms them down. It gives them the chance just to be.”

“These boys are my gentle souls but they can be intimidating,” she added. “The great thing about Leo is that he comes in here, like, ‘Alright, anybody can pet me.’ He and Ajax are two of the calmest dogs we’ve ever seen.”

Charlene Horvath, a teacher’s aide in The Day School, agreed. She started working with Leo during her time in the Therapeutic Activities Department.

“I have known Leo for the past 11 years and within that time I have seen Leo bond with each person he interacts with,” Char said. “He makes each person feel special. He has an adorable and lovable personality. He is the best therapy dog I have known.”

To vote for Leo in the Hero Dog Awards, go to You can vote once a day – every day, if you choose – until April 25.

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