Carolyn Crowe's dog, Tag-A-Long, can brighten a stranger's day with his comical antics.
The 12-year-old Labrador retriever has worked as a therapy dog for the past several years. Crowe, 58, of Port Huron Township, used to bring "Tag" — a former leader dog — with her to visit patients at St. Joseph Mercy Port Huron and Marwood Nursing and Rehab in Port Huron.
When people laughed at his fun personality, Tag would "ham it up" even more for his audience.
"They would just love him because he was so happy and smiley," Crowe said.
On a recent Saturday, Crowe, other dogs and their owners gathered at Great Lakes K9 in Port Huron to celebrate Tag's 12th birthday. Many of the dogs were therapy dogs or were training to be guide dogs.
As the dogs gobbled down "doggy cake" and romped around the play area, their owners spoke highly of the positive things the pooches bring to people's lives.
Therapy dogs can allow people to "open up" and communicate when they typically wouldn't, Crowe said.
"They bring a sense of relief and comfort," Crowe said. "And just a distraction from the everyday life struggles."
Sue Kinyon, a Port Huron Township woman who owns three therapy dogs, agreed. Therapy dogs can help people's well-being and cheer them up when they are depressed, she said. People can pet them, talk to them or just spend time with them.
"You just make a difference in one person's day," Kinyon, 46, said.
Rhonda McCurley, of Melvin, has been raising guide dog puppies for the past nine years. She said it's hard to give up the dogs after becoming attached to them. But usually the blind people who've taken her dogs have been extremely grateful, she said — and that makes it easier to bear.
"It just gives them so much independence," McCurley said.
The dogs, which go everywhere with their blind owners, help them navigate the world around them.
"It's another level of safety for them," she said.