13-year-old therapy dog lives out final days helping others

LAWRENCE, Ind. – “One... two... three… stand,” said physical therapist Curtis Wainman during a regular session with his patient Jerome Wade.

Wade is a double amputee who has been coming to a Community Health clinic in Lawrence for three years. But if you ask him, there’s only one reason he keeps coming back.

“Without Lex here, I wouldn’t come” Wade said with a laugh “I wouldn’t come here!”

Lex is a special member of the staff who’s been working at the clinic as long as anyone. At 13 years of age, Lex is well past retirement.

“So I’m gonna put my hand behind ya...” Wainman said to Wade as he gritted his teeth, holding himself up. “I want you to reach out and pet Lex.”

Just like that, his tense expression turned into a smile.

“Hey Lex!” Wade exclaimed, as he reached to his side to pet the 13-year-old yellow lab who is the center of attention at every visit.

“He’s kinda like the heart and the soul a little bit,” said speech pathologist Katie Reuter, who has been Lex’s handler for the past 10 years. “There have been some amazing additions to our clinic by different therapists who are coming and going, but he’s been that constant for the last 10 years.”

Lex brings with him a joy and energy that spreads to both employees and patients. Every night, Lex returns home with Reuter. But if Lex could talk, he’d probably say returning home happens every morning.

“Every single day when I get up to go to work, he picks up a toy and he stands by the back door and he looks over his shoulder and he wants to come to work with me,” Reuter said

Every day, Lex walked the halls of the clinic, visiting patients and lifting spirits. That is until two weeks ago, when the heart and soul of the clinic almost came to a stop.

“He was working on Monday, two weeks ago on Monday,” Reuter said. “And he unfortunately... had a situation where he collapsed here.”

Lex was rushed to the vet and into emergency surgery, to remove a tumor veterinarians found on his spleen. The surgery was successful and Lex soon returned home, but soon after, news came back that the tumor was cancerous and it had spread.

“It really kinda felt like one of those movies where everything just stands still,” said Wainman, who claims Lex was the main reason he joined this clinic three years ago.

Wainman even credits the dog with inspiring him to become a handler himself. Wainman has brought another therapy dog Jessie to the clinic, who is currently shadowing Lex to become his future replacement. Even though it’s something that’s been thought about, the thought of losing Lex is hard to comprehend.

As Lex lives out his final days, the goal now is simply to make him comfortable, in the place he feels at home.

Patients will say that Lex brings a special joy to their lives.

“Yup uh huh yup,” Wade said. “He sure does. Lex is the man, always has been.”

Always has been, and always will be. Because just as Lex gives his patients new life, they too give him new life, a life that will live on here for years to come.

“He’s just become so much a part of the story of this clinic,” Reuter said. “I can't imagine there will be a time that we’re not referencing him, bringing him up as inspiration and bringing him up as just a joyful part of this family we have in this clinic.”

Reuter paid for the surgery and palliative care for Lex out of her own pocket, so Wainman set up a GoFundMe to help with Lex’s medical costs. The clinic says any additional funds raised will be donated to an organization that helps service animals. You can find a link to that GoFundMe here.