LEWISTOWN - Reba ambles down the wide hallways of Golden Living Center William Penn in Lewistown. She's on her way to the Therapy Room to visit friends.
Her legs may not work, but she has wheels to help her along.
She trundles at a slow but determined pace, stopping for a few seconds now and then to catch her breath or take a small sip of water.
Sentinel photos by BUFFIE BOYER
Joan Lichtenwalner, activities director at Golden William Penn in Lewistown, greets Reba, while Pat Furner waits to pet the dog who regularly visits residents at the home.
It looks like there is a smile on her face.
When she reaches the Therapy Room, she hesitates as though she's wondering if her wheels will fit through the doorway.
Encouraged by passersby, she gives it a try and easily pulls herself into the room. Heads turn and faces light up. A gentleman seated in his own wheelchair smiles, reaches out to rub Reba's head and teases, "You big moose!"
But Reba's not a moose. She's a boxer with a spinal condition that has disabled her hindquarters, rendering her back legs useless.
She's not insulted by the nickname, and eagerly gives the resident a chance to make a fuss over her and reminisce about another dog in his life. Then she moves on to the next person and the next affectionate pat on the head.
Reba's owner, Missy Kinzer, the business office coordinator at William Penn, said the dog has been visiting residents of the home since she was 12 weeks old.
"We got Reba as a baby seven-plus years ago at 8 weeks old. She was totally normal until last summer," Kinzer said.
Kinzer got Reba from Dana and Carlos Moore, boxer breeders from Lewistown. "We picked her out when she was 12 hours old because we didn't want to dock her tail." Kinzer picks up Reba's tail to show its length, uncharacteristic of boxers. Even though the dog is clearly happy, her tail does not wag. "It doesn't work any more," Kinzer said.
Reba once weighed in at about 90 pounds, and now weighs about 75 pounds. "You can see how her her back end has atrophied," Kinser said, lifting up a back leg and letting it drop.
The dog's symptoms began last summer. The vet thought it might be arthritis, but nothing helped, Kinzer said. "It got worse and by the beginning of October, she couldn't walk at all."
Reba has degenerative myelopathy, a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs. Kinzer compares it to multiple sclerosis in humans. It was diagnosed by excluding other conditions, like cancer on her spinal cord. It's common in breeds like boxers, German shepherds and corgis.
As Reba's mobility issues worsened, Kinzer fashioned a sling around the dog's back end to help her get up and get around.
Holding her thumb and index finger about an inch apart, Kinzer said, "I got this close to putting her down because she was so unhappy."
But that changed when, by chance, Reba began to walk while Kinzer held her up in the sling.
"She took off. She was a different dog," the owner said.
Kinzer knew of a German shepherd who got around in a "cart," a set of wheels attached to the dog with a harness, and decided to get one for Reba.
It took about a week, a little bit of adjustment to the mechanical parts and a visit to the wide open courtyard at William Penn for Reba to adapt to the cart.
"Then she just took off," Kinzer said, believing that the level surface in the courtyard and the excitement at seeing her friends at William Penn inspired Reba to get moving in the contraption.
Reba is greeted happily by practically everyone who passes by.
Kinzer pats Reba's head. "She definitely still has quality of life."
She also improves the quality of life for the people she visits at William Penn.
She's been visiting residents at the nursing home since she was 12 weeks old, and pops in about once a week.
Even though she had no formal training as a therapy dog, Reba's "calling" in life became apparent when she was still a young pup.
She was about 6 months old or so when the family went shopping in State College. While her son was in a store, Kinzer walked Reba around outside. A lady came out of the store in a power chair and Reba went right up to her. The woman told Kinzer that Reba's reaction made her happy because most dogs were afraid of her chair and wouldn't approach her for a greeting.
At William Penn, "We had one guy, a stroke victim, who never said anything but 'yeah.' When he saw her, he said, 'nice dog.' That's when you see the magic that they have," Kinzer said.
"The staff all love her, even the people who I didn't think were dog people. The residents - it's just amazing how they react to her," Kinzer said. "They just can't believe how well she has adapted to her cart.
"It's helpful to them to see how she adapts to this."
When residents see Kinzer in the halls, they ask "Where's the dog?"
While visiting at William Penn, Reba walks the halls and visits individual rooms of those wanting to see her. Some residents call to her from their rooms, and some keep a stash of dog treats for Reba and other canine visitors.
"When she's here, I'm not sure who gets the most out of it - the residents here, or her."
Reba is "definitely a people person," Kinzer said. "If we go down to the park just to walk, she doesn't want to leave. We went to Derry Park to see the Christmas lights and she went all the way around once, and wanted to go again."
As in the past, "We will try to take her to the dog park in State College because even if she can't run around like she used to, she can still interact with the other dogs and people," Kinzer said.
Speaking for Reba, Kinzer said, "If there's someone to pet me, I can figure out how to get to them."
"It just warms my heart to see her. She's happy and still mobile."