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April 5, 2024

Remembering Deacon

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Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them and filling an emptiness we didn’t even know we had.  -Thom Jones 

It is said that the most challenging thing about having a dog is the goodbye. As we struggle with the loss of Deacon, Clay Humane Canine Ambassador, and resident GoodBoy, we know this all too well.  Deacon was not just a loyal companion to one; he was a friend, a playmate, a consoler, an entertainer, and a tail-wagging giver of happiness for countless people in our community – and the loss is staggering.  

Deacon spent the first 14 months bouncing from home to home before finally landing at SAFE Animal Shelter. At the same time, Lori Coleman, a long-time Clay Humane employee, an Alliance of Therapy Dogs evaluator, and AKC obedience and agility aficionado, was also bouncing from shelter to shelter, seeking a companion that would help fill the void left by the loss of her beloved therapy dog. One fateful afternoon in 2015, the two paths crossed, ending the story of the sad red Australian Shepherd and beginning the story of Deacon the Extraordinary Therapy Dog. 

In 6 months, Deacon became a fully certified therapy dog. In 2023, Deacon logged his 600ththerapy visit and earned his “Therapy Dog Supreme” title, the highest title fora therapy dog.  In the years between, Deacon brought joy to thousands through visits and appearances. As one of the first trauma-certified teams at Orange Park Medical Center, he comforted many sick and critical needs patients. "Traumatic injury is often unexpected and can be devastating," states Dr. Benetta Wholuba with Trauma Services at HCA Orange Park Hospital. "At our hospital, we recognize the importance of not only tending to physical wounds but also the emotional wounds of trauma. Deacon was a beloved member of the pet therapy program. Over the past five years he brought joy, excitement and comfort to our patients, their families and our staff." At the request of the State Attorney’s office, he provided comfort to young, anxious court-related witnesses. Deacon was a pioneer member of the JaxPaws programs at Jacksonville Airport and was a certified member of HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response, where he deployed to Red Cross shelters and Yellow Ribbon events for servicemen and women. Over the years, Deacon comforted, encouraged, entertained, and loved countless students, patients, seniors, community members, and travelers. Still, his favorite event was the Night to Shine Prom for special needs people. 

Deacon achieved tremendous success in the canine athletic arena, as well.  In all, he held 33 AKC titles, including agility, trick dog, and most notably in AKC Rally Obedience where he earned his Rally Championship last year. His love of treats and his eagerness to please drove Deacon to excellence in all he did.   

The number of lives that Deacon touched in the years since he was rescued from the shelter is immeasurable. The pain felt in his absence is evident not only in his beloved family but in our staff, whom he convinced to walk him to the treat jar daily, in the delivery drivers whom he insisted take time to visit with him, and in the community who has lost their “Goodest Boy”. It is said you never forget the love of a dog. With Deacon, we know that it would be impossible to forget a dog that gave us so much to remember.   

You are dearly missed, Deacon—our most heartfelt condolences to the Colemans and the entire pet therapy family.  




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