NEWINGTON - It was a summer day in August 2015 when town resident Dr. Ellen Leonard caught a glimpse of something straddling the center line of Hearts Content Road in Catskill, N.Y.
That was her first meeting with Rhody, an emaciated miniature pinscher abandoned with a collar that read, “Bad to the Bone.” Now two summers later, this special dog will become the namesake of a pet drinking fountain in Newington’s Mill Pond Park.
“We called animal control and fell in love with her while we waited for them to come,” Leonard recalled of that first day.
Later that month she adopted Rhody, who went on to be a dedicated pet therapy animal despite her declining health. Multiple surgeries failed to prevent cancer from taking her life last fall.
“We gave her 15 good months,” said Leonard, a pediatrician in New Britain. “She was the best dog in the world.”
Newington Parks and Recreation recently accepted a $5,000 gift from Leonard to install a handicapped-accessible drinking fountain, dog fountain and water jug filling attachment in the park where she and Rhody walked many a day. Parks Director Bill DeMaio, who is both handicapped and a dog owner, hopes to have the new fountain installed by the summer’s end.
“I couldn’t be any more pleased and appreciative for Dr. Leonard’s generosity and civic-mindedness,” he said.
The new feature will be equipped with an aluminum plaque honoring Rhody and her family. It will be a special addition to the newly built Saputo Fitness Center, unveiled last week.
“The location is perfect because it’s going to be wall-mounted on the side of the bathhouse, for anyone who uses the new fitness equipment or people walking and running with their dogs around the pond path,” DeMaio pointed out.
Leonard’s gift actually totaled $25,000. The remaining $20,000 not spent on the fountain will go towards building a dog park in town, he said.
“There are only a few people like Dr. Leonard who we run into in our business,” DeMaio said. “She is wonderful, kind, caring and very humble. It’s rewarding to have philanthropists like her in this community.”
The fountain’s location is idyllic for another reason as well. Rhody and Leonard were walking around Mill Pond one day when the dandelions were in bloom. Two men stopped to say hello.
“The younger man had trouble petting Rhody and she just looked at him and put her paw on his arm,” Leonard remembered. “I knew then she needed to be a therapy dog.”
Rhody received her pet therapy license a year after her rescue and spent the last few months of her life working with patients and students.
“She really loved it,” added Leonard, who just welcomed in Ruby, a Chihuahua who may be destined for pet therapy as well. “Rhody was just so special; she loved everybody.”
The fountain will be a place where Leonard can visit with her memory.
“Rhody would say, ‘This is great. It’s something I can give to people.’”
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.