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The Rose Girls Bring Joy to Many as Therapy Dogs

Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography Provided 

Rose GirlsLeslie Wells, a pharmacist and lifelong animal lover, had always dreamed of two things. One was to own a red standard poodle, and the other was to train that pet to become a certified therapy dog. When she and her partner, Greg Cox, began searching, they were thrilled to find Jen Lehman, a breeder in Ohio who breeds standard poodles, many of whom become therapy or service dogs.

“We thought, ‘What a great leader to be aligned with,’” Cox says.

To be clear, there’s a difference between a therapy dog and a service dog. Service dogs perform a service for their owners and are not to interact with anyone beyond the person they are serving. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, help alleviate issues like anxiety, depression and grief. As Cox says, “They’re there to bring joy and love.”

Becoming a registered therapy dog is an intense process, as they must prove that they are focused, calm and nonreactive. The couple’s dog Alexa passed the training with flying colors. They later adopted Alexa’s mother Prim, who also got certified. With mother and daughter reunited, Alexa Rose and Prim Rose became Diva Duo Reds Therapy Dogs (aka the Rose Girls). They work primarily with Paws & Think, a community-based nonprofit that brings joy and healing, free of charge, to various program partners, including schools, libraries, detention centers, humane societies, hospitals, cancer support centers and elder-care facilities. The organization’s mission is to improve lives through the power of the human-dog connection, and Cox and Wells witness, on a regular basis, just how powerful that connection is.

Alexa and Prim are not your standard canines, as their owners always have them fancily dressed with their fur fully fluffed, donning custom-made collars. As a result, they draw a crowd wherever they go. This year the couple took the Rose Girls downtown to the Indy 500 Festival Parade and were stopped more than 100 times by folks wanting to get their pictures taken with the precious pooches. 

The Rose Girls were featured on PetPals TV with Patty Spitler, and Alexa’s sweet face graced the pages of a book called “We Needed a Best Friend: An Exquisite Standard Poodle Picture Book,” as well as a 2021 page-a-day dog calendar. 

Rose GirlsCox and Wells don’t take their girls out for the fame and glory, however. They do it to create smiles and spread joy. For instance, they participate in Paws to Read story time at the Greenwood Public Library, through which children who lack confidence in reading or have a learning disability sit on the floor and read to a dog.

“Alexa puts her head in the child’s lap and looks up at them when they’re reading,” Cox says. “It’s the sweetest thing.”

Alexa and Prim also went to the Indianapolis Colts training complex for an event that helped teens who are struggling with social acceptance issues. 

“A handful of kids never wanted to leave the dogs’ sides,” Cox says. “They’re literally having conversations with the dogs because they don’t feel judged. In fact, the dogs console them.” 

When they visit hospitals, it’s not just the patients who benefit. 

“These nurses often have stressful days where they’re caring for sick and dying patients, so they get down on the ground and cuddle these dogs,” Cox says.

According to Kelsey Burton, executive director of Paws & Think, when the Rose Girls walk into a room, everyone’s faces light up. 

“They immediately bring joy to everyone who sees them,” Burton says. “Their handlers, Greg and Leslie, are equally as popular. Together they have helped hundreds of individuals find happiness and comfort as a result of their work as Paws & Think therapy teams.”

Rose GirlsSeveral weeks ago Cox and Wells were at The Home Depot with Alexa when they were approached by a couple with their 11-year-old autistic son. The boy put his arm around Alexa and gave her a kiss. The mom started crying because she had never seen him act that way before.

“He was so responsive, and Alexa just knew as she always does,” Cox says. “She can sense what’s going on, and the child’s whole demeanor changed.”

Another time, Cox and Wells were at a mall when they came across an older couple and their adult daughter, who had cerebral palsy and was in a wheelchair. She was nonverbal, but when Alexa approached her wheelchair, she started moving her hands up and down with excitement.

We never could have imagined the impact these girls, as well as the hundreds of other therapy dogs with Paws & Think, would have on our communities,” Cox says. They truly have been a blessing to all they come in contact with.”

To learn more about Paws & Think or to make a donation, visit pawsandthink.org.

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