Spreading love beyond language

Eagan author writes children’s book about therapy dog

During times of trouble, sometimes a visit from man’s best friend can really lift the spirits.

Brisket, a loving Tibetan spaniel, can comfort those even in the most dire of situations.

“She is so adorable that she can cheer up just about anyone,” her owner Sheila Hittner said.

Hittner is a real estate agent from Eagan who wrote “Brisket Cars” about her 4-year-old therapy dog. The book was released last month on Hittner’s birthday.

While Brisket’s name is inspired by the family restaurant Rack Shack BBQ in Burnsville, she’s more likely to be found in places such as Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville.

Hittner intends to give “Brisket Cares” to the children who they visit along with a coloring book “Color Me Brisket.”

She also has a stuffed animal in the works.

Brisket has also paid a visit to the brain trauma wing at the Courage Center and a day care in Apple Valley for mentally disabled children.

Brisket will even sit and listen to children tell stories at Akin Road Elementary in Farmington as part of the Reading Education Assistance Dogs program.

“Kids are brought out of their classes and they read to her,” Hittner said. “Studies show that if a child reads to a dog or a pet, they’re better at reading because the peer pressure is off. It builds confidence because the dog doesn’t judge them.”

It’s not easy work, but it seems like Brisket’s calling.

She tackles the toughest cases with grace and compassion.

“She really likes the hospital with the peace and quiet so she can snuggle down,” Hittner said.

She visits many children who are in hospice, perhaps the toughest job of all.

“We have figured out through our visits at the hospital that she knows when people are dying,” Hittner said. “Normally, she sits with you on the bed and looks around and wants your love and attention. When she gets into bed with someone that is dying she lays down, paws and head down and we can’t move her.”

Hittner has to pull Brisket way when they need to move on to other patients.

When plans for Crescent Cove, a children’s hospice care facility in Brooklyn Center were official, she decided to write “Brisket Cares.”

The children’s respite and hospice home will open in fall 2017. The only other homes like this are in California and Arizona.

“Kids either die in the hospital or in their home,” Hittner said.

The book is about Brisket’s day-to-day life and her time spent as a therapy dog.

It’s also interactive. Each page has a question for the child.

“On one page, it will show Brisket being sneaky and then ask ‘what do you do that’s sneaky?’ ” Hittner said. “It allows families to talk about their feelings.”

Lynn Garthwaite, who shares credit for the book, helped Hittner start the process of writing the book by asking her questions about Brisket’s life.

“I rewrote it all several times,” Hittner said.

Finding an illustrator was a challenge because she wanted to really capture Brisket and her expressions.

“A gal I know from church introduced us to (illustrator Hetty Mitchell),” Hittner said. “It was amazing. It was like looking at a picture.”

The book is self published, which “wasn’t cheap.” She printed 1,500 initial copies.

“The main reason I did this is so families have something after the visit,” Hittner said.

Perhaps it would serve as something to remember their child by.

Once Crescent Cove opens, Hittner expects to visit several times with her dog.

It’s not something Brisket and her family could just jump into.

To become a therapy dog, Brisket took about two months of classes due to insurance requirements.

The key to being a good therapy dog is focus. The classes would have people in wheelchairs surrounded by toys.

There would be loud noises and other distractions, but the dogs would have to overcome the circumstances without misbehaving.

Brisket has a separate collar for therapy visits, so she knows she has to act a certain way.

The easiest way to get the book is by visiting www.brisketcares.com.

Hittner was at the Eagan Art Festival last month autographing copies and she plans on attending other area festivals such as Pan-O-Prog in the future to showcase her book.