Thera-poodle at work

Carmichael, CA  |  Words and pictures by Susan Maxwell Skinner
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Open wide. Dr. Rasi and Sir Winston demonstrate examination etiquette for two-year-old patient Lillian Kavanagh. Mom Angela and dental technician Lindsay LaMantain (right) look on. Photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner

Sir Winston interns at Carmichael Dentistry

Carmichael, CA (MPG) - Carmichael Chamber of Commerce president Gabrielle Rasi and her staff have the glorious smiles of dental professionals. From one employee, however, flashes a bonus grin. Poodle Sir Winston Churchill’s white canines are truly canine. “I brush his teeth every day,” says Dr. Rasi. “Puppy breath is lovely. Doggie breath isn’t. That can mean dental disease.”

Sweet-breathed Winston has critical employment in Rasi’s Coyle Avenue dentistry. Salaried with love and treats, the three-year-old is comforter-in-training. “People are sometimes stressed at the dentist,” explains Rasi. “Winston’s still working for his therapy diploma, but he already helps anxious patients. He leans against them or puts his head in their laps. He’s a big, fluffy, teddy bear.”

Named for the legendary British Prime Minister, the doggie diplomat is latest in a series of pooches at the practice. Rasi is married to fellow dentist Dr. Kevin Tanner and for 13 years, the couple’s Labrador Hudson welcomed patients to Rasi’s surgery. When Hudson retired, poodle Lola succeeded him. Eventually, when Lola followed Hudson to doggie heaven, Rasi and Turner adopted Winston. “Standard poodles are smart,” she explains. “They’re also hypo-allergic. They don’t shed or affect people with allergies. They love and protect.”

Sir Winston started therapy internship at two years old. All Stage Canine Development consultant Miranda Viani regularly schools the wooly student. Beyond nursing-home visits, dog and trainer haunt busy places to desensitize the intern among moving objects and loud noise. “He still gets excited when he sees kids,” notes his trainer. “He’s learning the difference between play time and work time.”

“Winston lives for love,” observes Rasi. “He just can’t get enough of kids. We recently had a three-year-old who was scared and crying when she arrived for her examination. Soon as she saw Winston, she started laughing and petting his poufy head. With a loving friend beside her, she knew no one would harm her.”

Winston’s meal breaks are supplied from his own shelf in the office fridge. He heads purposefully for patio doors to indicate bathroom needs. “He sits outside my examination room door when I’m working,” says his boss. “He knows he’s not allowed in during procedures. But he’s ready to spoil people with love as they leave. My patients ask for Sir Winston by name. Some visit – without appointments – just to bring him treats or toys. He shakes hands. He takes center-stage in the lobby. Without Winston, work would be much less fun.”

“He’s also king of the castle at home,” confirms Rasi.  “He knows when it’s Saturday and he sleeps in with us. When I get up Monday morning, he waits for me at the garage door. If I tell him he must stay home – sometimes I have meetings he can’t attend -- I feel I’ve ruined his whole day.”