Kindness in Real Life: Rosie a riveting part of veteran coffeehouses

TVCCA volunteer Barry Russack and his therapy dog Rosie at the monthly TVCCA Veterans Coffeehouse at Groton Human Services on August 17. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
TVCCA volunteer Barry Russack and his therapy dog Rosie at the monthly TVCCA Veterans Coffeehouse at Groton Human Services on August 17. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

One of the most popular regulars at the Thames Valley Council for Community Action’s veteran coffeehouses spends most of her time at the meetings greeting everyone and begging for belly rubs.

Rosie, a black Labrador retriever, attends meetups in Groton and Mystic with Barry Russack, a 30-year Navy veteran who has been training her as a therapy dog since he got her as a rescue three years ago. The two also visit with Alzheimer’s patients at Masonicare and some of his clients as a psychiatric social worker.

Beyond basic commands like “sit” and “stay,” Russack said Rosie has been taught to remain calm during chaotic situations like a busy store. As she made her rounds at the Groton meeting Aug. 17, she would often sit beside someone and roll onto her back to get them to rub her belly. If she strayed too far from Russack, however, she’d come trotting back to be by his side.

She can also tell if someone is anxious or having a medical issue based on how they smell, and if she senses that someone needs help, she’ll lick their left hand, which notifies Russack that he should approach them.

Russack said people react positively when they see Rosie, even though sometimes they’re surprised to see her. He notices an immediate difference when someone with anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder starts petting her, and the Alzheimer’s patients often start talking about dogs they had when they were children.

Gina King, program coordinator at TVCCA, said she first met Russack and Rosie at a veteran coffeehouse at the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center two years ago, when they first came as guests. They’ve been coming to the coffeehouses as volunteers since, supporting the mission and providing enjoyment and peace to the local veteran community.

For a complete list of veteran coffeehouse locations, visit tvcca.org.

Kindness in Real Life is a regular feature in which we encourage writers to tell about kind acts being done in the community. To submit your own story and photos, email Lee Howard at l.howard@theday.com.

Veteran Jack Casey chats with other veterans as therapy dog Rosie rests during the monthly TVCCA Veterans Coffeehouse at Groton Human Services on August 17.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Veteran Jack Casey chats with other veterans as therapy dog Rosie rests during the monthly TVCCA Veterans Coffeehouse at Groton Human Services on August 17. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Lil and Bob Parico, right, enjoy therapy dog Rosie, with her handler TVCCA volunteer Barry Russack, left, at the monthly TVCCA Veterans Coffeehouse at Groton Human Services on August 17. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Lil and Bob Parico, right, enjoy therapy dog Rosie, with her handler TVCCA volunteer Barry Russack, left, at the monthly TVCCA Veterans Coffeehouse at Groton Human Services on August 17. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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