Animal Therapy: Beaufort couple helps others through Therapy Dogs

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By Lanier Laney

Therapy Dogs, Incorporated is a national organization headquartered in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The 20 local members of this respected organization were recruited by Philadelphia natives, Rebecca Bass and Frank Vandegrift.

Rebecca and Frank, along with their two rescued Dobermans, Mousse and Chloe, have completed more than 275 therapy dog visits over the past four years. The dogs also have won numerous competition obedience titles awarded by the American Kennel Club. Their dogs are outstanding representatives of the breed and have assisted children with reading and brought companionship and comfort to many senior citizens in Beaufort in assisted living homes.

From left: Rebecca, Chloe, Mousse and Frank. Photo by Captured Moments Photography.
From left: Rebecca, Chloe, Mousse and Frank. Photo by Captured Moments Photography.

Rebecca says, “The purpose of making visits with our certified therapy dogs is ‘Sharing Smiles and Joy.’ The impact has been incredible. A few years ago, a senior citizen was stroking one of our Dobermans and exclaimed, ‘She’s beautiful.’ Later, one of the caregivers at the assisted living home pulled me aside to tell me that this elderly lady had not spoken a word in years. Her first words were in reaction to the unconditional love of our dogs!”

Another member, Sarah Elliott, the only junior handler (under age 18) with a therapy dog in the area, and her little terrier, Twixie, have been participating in the ARF! — Animals make Reading Fun! — Program that Rebecca started at the YMCA.

Both Rebecca and Frank, who met at Rutgers Law School and have been happily married for 36 years, had high-powered corporate careers before coming to Beaufort. Rebecca started her career as a Wall Street litigation attorney. She spent more than 20 years as an international executive for companies like GE, Motorola and Home Depot, and was CEO of an early stage software company in Atlanta.  She sold that company and relocated to Beaufort. Here she started a mortgage financing branch of an Atlanta-based mortgage bank, building it from zero to $27 million in annual financings.

She subsequently served as dean for continuing education for Technical College of the Lowcountry and then director of development and alumni relations for Beaufort Academy.

Frank started his career as a practicing attorney and later became a Special Agent for the FBI. He served in high level government compliance and government relations roles for GE and Motorola. Frank retired after serving 10 years as head of security for RaceTrac Petroleum, a $9 billion convenience store corporation.

In 2003, while living in Atlanta, they were scheduled to spend a long weekend in Charleston. Rebecca happened to read an article in Southern Living Magazine about “Beautiful Beaufort by the Sea” so they decided to change their plans and visit Beaufort.  Says Rebecca, “We fell in love with Beaufort and made an offer on an ocean home on Harbor Island before we left town!”

Frank commented on why they decided to move here: “We loved the absolutely striking beauty of the area, the fact that there is a water view everywhere, and the opportunity to enjoy small town life but still be in proximity to more metropolitan cities like Savannah, Charleston, and Charlotte and the entertainment options they offer.”

Rebecca adds, “We also love the diversity of personalities and the fact that we felt at home here from our very first visit.”

Frank was a firearms instructor in the FBI and a member of an FBI SWAT team. Today he belongs to a private shooting club and likes to shoot skeet and targets. As for the future, Frank says he will continue to enjoy retirement and contribute to the community.

Along with her ongoing work with therapy dogs, Rebecca is a gourmet cook and president of the Photography Club of Beaufort. She is also evaluating new entrepreneurial opportunities.

Therapy Dogs, Incorporated does not have local chapters. Each member is a member of the national organization at large. However, locally Rebecca recruits new members. Almost all of their members are graduates of the obedience classes that Rebecca has been teaching for the Beaufort Kennel Club as a volunteer for almost 10 years.

Says Rebecca, “Sharing our dogs with the people we visit as therapy dog teams is extremely rewarding to us. If you have a dog that is obedience trained with a friendly personality, I encourage you to check out how to become a member of Therapy Dogs. I would be happy to be a mentor for you and answer any questions you may have.”

Find out more about Therapy Dogs online at www.therapydogs.com or contact Rebecca at rwbass@embarqmail.com.