At first glance, he appears just your average four-legged, golden-colored canine. But this dog, known as Booker, is no ordinary pup.
Booker is a 3-year-old therapy dog registered with Pet Partners, a national organization that registers handlers and animals as teams to provide animal-assisted interactions. He is also an American Kennel Club Therapy Dog and wears a blue Resources Education Assistance Dog (R.E.A.D.) vest everywhere he goes. In order for Booker to be registered and titled through these prestigious programs, he must be trained and tested by a licensed evaluator and complete 50 volunteer hours.
In part, those titles allow him to assist children who struggle with reading by building their confidence. Booker—a small version of a golden retriever trademarked by his breeder Kathy Burgess of Kentucky as a “comfort retriever”—is trained to sense when someone is stressed or troubled and will trot over to comfort him or her.
Booker’s handler and owner, Donna Pettit of Gilroy, got on the waitlist with the breeder and received the 8-week-old puppy Aug. 8, 2011. She him enrolled in obedience training and socialization classes and he quickly learned how to adapt to many situations. In January, Booker and Pettit will begin Animal Assisted Therapy work with students at Gilroy Prep School.
In the past, Booker provided stress relief for students at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. During times of high-stress for students, Pettit walked Booker around campus, giving them an opportunity to relax and enjoy the therapy dog’s company.
During the summer of 2013, Booker found himself in the spotlight.
The American Humane Association works with the National Military Family Association to provide therapy dogs at Operation Purple Camps, camps for children whose military parent or parents are deployed. To find therapy dogs to participate, the AHA connects with Pet Partners, requesting teams from all over the United States to become involved in Operation Purple Camp.
While attending Operation Purple Camp in Santa Barbara, Booker was discovered by Amy McCullough, director of the AHA. Booker was filmed while at Operation Purple Camp and the documentary—on the role of therapy dogs and OPC—was shown at the AHA’s Hero Dog Awards ceremony in Beverly Hills on Oct. 5, 2013.
Booker was then invited to join Adrienne Maloof (“Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”) for a televised charity event Oct. 9 to help support Canines and Childhood Cancer.
Pettit aspires for Booker to someday win the AHA’s Hero Dog Award. Dogs are nominated for this award in eight categories: Law Enforcement Dogs, Military Dogs, Arson Dogs, Search and Rescue Dogs, Guide/Hearing Dogs, Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Emerging Hero Dogs (for dogs who do extraordinary things).
This award is featured on the Hallmark Channel and past recipients include dogs such as Lola, a rescued dog that serves her owner as a hearing dog; Carlos the Explosive Detection Dog, who is credited with saving many American soldiers’ lives; and John D, a dog that saves lives by detecting cancers with his heightened sense of smell.
Booker can be seen at various locations around the area, including Gilroy Gardens, where Pettit works as a docent. During the holiday season, Booker sports an elf costume and spreads holiday cheer to park patrons. You may also find him at Lana’s Dance Studio when Pettit takes dance class, at the Gilroy Library from time to time and working at Gilroy Prep School beginning in January.
If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet Booker, he will be available for photos and a “meet and greet” event at 11 a.m. Dec. 20 at BookSmart in Morgan Hill.
For more information on the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards, visit
Booker and his handler will be available for photos and a “meet and greet” event at 11 a.m. Dec. 20 at BookSmart, 80 E. Second St., Morgan Hill.

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