At a certain posh locale, I’ve spotted movie stars, TV chefs, media gurus and a former president. In New York City, such celebrities are treated like Louis Vuitton purses; enjoyed from afar, maybe side-eyed, never gushed over. But when Baker Shiner, a golden doodle, trotted into this same arena, he caused a sensation. People inched in, asking and receiving permission to pet, and the circle swelled. A family of tourists shyly asked Frank Shiner, Baker’s owner, for a picture with the dog. “Sure!” Frank said. Their expressions during the photo-shoot seemed to say, out of all their city experiences this was their highlight.
There’s science happening when you go to the dogs. “Petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response,” a UCLA-Health website about therapy dogs explains. Pets promote serotonin and the ‘happy’ hormones, lower anxiety, help Alzheimer’s patients with memory recall, help people on the Autism spectrum respond, lower blood pressure and improve heart health.
Challenges and TriumphsWhile Baker’s accomplishments as a therapy dog are part breeding and part luck, Frank Shiner deserves all the credit for the duo’s success as volunteers. Everything Frank does he does with zeal.
He had a growing and successful career in television and theater when he met his wife Suzanne in an acting class in 1982. They’ve been together ever since. “Suzanne is my spark plug,” Frank said. “We work as a team.”
As their family started to grow, they looked at options to smooth over the roller-coaster income of two performers. Frank tried his hand at sales. “At first I was miserable in the corporate world,” he said. But Frank’s a spiritual kind of guy. He lifted this problem up, saying, “My wish is, if this is what You want of me, take away the desire for the other.” After that, with his contagious tenacity, Frank excelled in sales to the point where he started his own business in the healthcare sector.
A catastrophe hit the Shiner’s when Suzanne was diagnosed with “triple negative breast cancer to all receptors,” which blocks off three typical treatment points. Suzanne also carried the BRCA 1 gene, a tumor suppressor, which, when shortened, leaves you vulnerable. “It was a punch in the gut,” Frank admitted. Suzanne had thirteen surgeries, many radical.
In between hospital stays and chemo the Shiners seized family moments. One night they went to an open mic. Suzanne prodded Frank to go on stage. He refused. He wasn’t ready, hadn’t sung professionally for a long time. Suzanne slipped her wig back a bit and pointed to her bald head. “Do it for me,” she asked.
“Yeah, she played the cancer card,” Frank laughs.
After his first song, the audience begged for another, then another. This evolved into playing gigs with the band. Frank’s business now allowed him time to return to performing, on his terms.
Meanwhile Suzanne made great strides toward wellness. In gratitude for Suzanne’s gradual return to health and prosperity, the Shiner family decided to “dedicate the rest of our lives to doing for others.”
Baker Picks a Family One day, Frank’s daughter Lindsay said, “Let’s go look at golden doodles. We’ll just look.”
“No, No, No,” Frank replied. But daughters have a way with dads. As the puppies had a rumpus with the family, one came over and sat in Frank’s lap.
Game, set, perfect match.
On his first day as a Shiner, Baker learned to sit and roll over. He was 11 weeks old. There’s a video for disbelievers. In a lifetime of dogs, I’ve only owned one who rolled over. You were then rewarded by a ‘squirt’ straight in the air. We went through a lot of welcome mats.
Frank brought Baker to work, where the dog became the most popular employee. When one of Frank’s coworkers suggested that he have Baker registered as a therapy dog, Frank signed up for the six week “Good Citizens” course at PETCO. Baker aced it. The ASPCA certification followed, which has since been replaced by the American Kennel Club Therapy Dog Program. Baker scored a cool 100 percent.
Frank and Baker volunteer at several health care facilities. Most recently, Baker worked at Gilda’s Club, the “free comprehensive cancer program”, where the duo assisted in the bereavement group for children. After watching a child pet and hug Baker, a counselor came over to Frank and whispered, “It’s been weeks since he would participate in anything, and look at him, he’s smiling ear to ear!”
Frank Shiner is not only volunteering his and Baker’s time, all the profits from his own record label go to charity. A winner of two L.A. Music Critic Awards, Frank recently performed with Vanessa Williams at a fundraiser for the San Miguel Academy a tuition-free middle school for boys from underserved families.
If you’re interested in training your dog as a certified therapy dog, head over to the AKC site, www.akc.org for more details. Petco’s Pet Therapy program can be found here: PetcoPetTherapy. And Baker has a Facebook page, BakerShiner.