Nestle the Therapy Dog

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An excerpt from an article titled Some healthcare professionals get around on four paws by Lisa Crawford Watson in the June 25, 2021 edition of The Carmel Pine Cone.

Nestle, a black Lab, was a therapy dog at the Kinship Center for almost 16 years, until her death in 2020.

Sometimes, difficult beginnings can lead to happy endings. Nestle, a black Labrador retriever, began her life in the home of an abusive man. She was adopted by Leigh Cecka, operations manager for Kinship Center in Salinas, which arranges foster care and offers adoption services. Cecka taught Nestle that she was safe — a lesson the canine passed on to kids at the center for nearly 16 years.

One morning, three very young children, just removed from their parents, came to the Kinship Center after spending the night in a shelter. Unwilling to speak to anyone, the youngest kept trying to kick the social workers. When Cecka asked if anyone would like to meet her dog, the child ran over to Nestle, threw his arms around her neck, and sobbed into her shoulder. He slowly relaxed into her and fell asleep.

“Nestle, who died a year ago, was such a miracle worker with our kids,” Cecka said. “Since she came from her own difficult beginning, I explained her parallel story to Kinship Center children, who could relate. I always let Nestle do the rest of the work.” Although she realizes Nestle was a very special dog, Cecka imagines another dog might be, as well. She has begun looking for another rare find she can train as a therapy dog for children.