Older dog gets new lease on life

Nova the dog with her family
These days Nova hikes mountains and provides comfort at a hospital with her person.
By Jenny Agnew

In early 2020, Janelle Romano moved to Salt Lake City, and while waiting to start her job as an occupational therapist, she decided to give fostering a dog a try. She had no immediate plans to adopt a pet. But within 24 hours of bringing Nova home from Best Friends, she decided to become a “foster win” and adopted the 7-year-old dog.

Nova had already had multiple homes in her life when Janelle picked her up. Prior to coming to Best Friends, Nova was surrendered to a shelter in Utah after living outside in a kennel.

When she brought her home, Janelle found “the gentle soul,” as she calls her, to be well-mannered around the house; she was even already house-trained. The only behavior that suggested Nova had lived outside was her fear of going around corners in the home.

Learning the comforts of home

For six months after adopting her, Janelle worked to help Nova overcome her fear of corners by giving her treats and showering her with lots of praise. Janelle also introduced Nova to games, including fetch, again through repetition and praise. Three years later, one of Nova’s favorite activities is retrieving her stuffed animal bunny.

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Janelle says Nova’s sweet, docile personality is what helped her to decide within 24 hours to adopt her. Happy to “skip out of the puppy stage,” Janelle wanted to give an older dog a chance. Nova’s striking looks may have also had something to do with Janelle’s decision to adopt her — the leggy pup sports a gorgeous chocolate coat with caramel-colored eyes and a wide smile. Curious to learn more about Nova, Janelle had her DNA tested, and the 75-pound stunner is 50% Weimaraner, 30% chocolate Labrador, and 20% standard poodle.

Janelle and Nova now live in Denver with Janelle’s boyfriend, Andrew Lepore, who Janelle says is wonderful with the pup, She and Andrew both work outside of the home, which means Nova may be alone for up to nine hours at a time. But she never disturbs anything and is content to snooze the day away on her favorite couch outside the bedroom — the same couch she sleeps on at night. Nova is even so popular with Janelle and Andrew’s friends that there’s always someone willing to watch her when the couple goes out of town.

A star therapy dog

Nova has been so well-mannered that Janelle decided to teach her to be a therapy dog to visit patients in the hospital where she’s employed. Over the course of four months, Nova worked on being comfortable in cramped spaces like “squeezing around tight corners to get towards the patient’s bed,” Janelle says — similar to how she learned to be comfortable navigating corners when she first came into Janelle’s house. Being able to “shake,” or offer her paw to someone, was also part of the training since that’s how she often interacts with the patients.

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When Nova’s on the job, she sits with patients at the hospital, helping to distract them from why they are there, Janelle says. The pair will go from room to room, with Nova offering comfort and support through her calming presence. Some patients pet her soft coat while others simply enjoy having a dog nearby.

In addition to visiting patients at the hospital, Nova also loves to ride in the car and sniff all the interesting smells out the window. Those car rides sometimes lead to another one of Nova’s favorite pastimes: hiking. Although she is now around 10 years old, Nova still easily covers six to eight miles at a time with Janelle and Andrew. A recent checkup at the veterinarian showed Nova is in excellent health. Maybe it’s the fresh mountain air or maybe it’s the new lease on life and purpose that keep her young at heart. Or maybe it’s all the love she receives from Janelle and Andrew.

Nova the dog sitting and wearing a therapy dog bandana
Photo courtesy of Janelle Romano

Silver muzzles bring silver linings

Looking for an active senior to go on walks with, or maybe a couch potato to keep you company? You’ll find both of them at your local pet shelter.
Silhouette of two dogs, cat and kitten

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