Although Tangus is only eight years old, he has put in hundreds and hundreds of hours of volunteer work over his life.
He works with clients of all ages and situations, counselling people on grief, mental and emotional stress, self-esteem and relationship issues.
And he does it all on four legs.
“He’s a canine good citizen,” said his owner, Straja Linder King.
“Tangus sees the beauty in every person’s soul,” King said. “The absolute unconditional love that Tangus elicits truly changes the ambience in a room. You can see how everyone becomes more relaxed.
“They’ll give Tangus a hug and know that they’re not going to be judged.”
The gentle Shilo Shepherd recently won The Animal Hero Award from the Pet Therapy Society of Northern Alberta for his heroism in saving a woman from two black bears.
She was left alone setting up a memorial at Camp Chief Hector near Cochrane.
“He bared his teeth and shooed them with a grace that’s beyond words,” said King. “He’s such a brave, strong dog.”
Tangus also participates in a reading program with the Calgary Public Library and elementary schools, where children who struggle with literacy practice reading to a dog where they won’t be judged on their mistakes.
“I had tears in my eyes to watch him with these little children reading to Tangus when they would normally be too scared,” King said.
Tangus connected with Nateisha Dustyhorn four years ago through an art therapy program.
“I was going through a lot and I needed someone,” Dustyhorn said. “We clicked right away.”
Today, Tangus has a 28-week-old apprentice, another Shilo Shepherd set to take over when he retires.
Alison Archambault and her husband have two Pet Access League Society (PALS) therapy dogs and are raising a national service dog, which will soon be given to a family with an autistic child.
“My pet can give so much that people can’t give,” Archambault said.
“I’ll walk into a room and some of the people there won’t be capable of speaking. They’ll put a hand on the dog’s head and just sit there. They have clearly exchanged a conversation that I haven’t been involved with.”
Archambault said it can be difficult to train a dog to become a therapy dog.
“They have to have a very specific bag of characteristics, but it’s not about their physicality,” she said. “It’s actually what is innately in that dog’s heart.”