At a certain point, Secaucus resident Bob Finelli decided he just had to have a golden retriever. He and his wife Stephanie reached out to a New Jersey breeder whose dogs were “bred for temperament.” Stephanie said they were torn between a lighter one and one that was a darker gold. They decided on the darker dog because “he walked over to them” and introduced himself. He was eight weeks old, and it was love at first sight.
They named him “Fairway” because they are in the golf business. Stephanie is a buyer for the Tee to Green golf shop in the Riverside Square mall in Hackensack, and Bob provides promotional materials for corporate and golf events.
Fairway and Bob started taking walks to the Bagel Buffet in Plaza Center.
“Therapy dogs have an ability with children that we don’t have.”— Stephanie Finelli
When he was about 4, Fairway’s exploits at the Bagel Buffet led to a volunteer opportunity.
“The director of the special needs facility in Secaucus was at the Bagel Buffet and asked if Fairway could come to the facility,” Stephanie said. “He would be wonderful for severely disabled children.”
Now he volunteers several times a month all over the state, working with children in after-school programs and with adults and seniors in hospitals and assisted living facilities.
Fairway is almost 12 years old, with a bit of a white beard, and his people skills have matured right along with him.
Child moved for first time
Stephanie recalled that when Fairway started volunteering, a little girl in a wheelchair who was not mobile moved her hand 5 inches toward the dog when Fairway put his paws up.
“The teacher started crying,” Stephanie said. “That child had never moved.”
Stephanie firmly believes that “therapy dogs have an ability with children that we don’t have.”
She also tells the story of Fairway encountering a man in the park who was facing surgery who talked to Fairway and thought it was good luck.
Though everyone knew that Fairway had innate talents, to become a professional therapy dog he needed a license. Because of insurance liability, he would not be allowed to work in a hospital, nursing home, or convalescent home without certification.
“That big gorgeous tail could knock an IV out of an arm or knock every drink off a table, and there would be a lawsuit,” Stephanie said.
Though most dogs have to go through training before they can become therapy dogs, Fairway was so advanced that he skipped training and went directly to a very rigorous test.
He went to the offices of Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs in Morris Plains.
“He had to work with another dog in close quarters; he can’t be aggressive toward another dog,” Stephanie said. “I would bite somebody before Fairway would. He’s totally nonaggressive.”
He also had to show that he was not freaked out by noise.
“They’d bring a wheelchair with loud clamoring noises,” she added. “Everything was done to show his docile behavior.”
His ability to listen to commands was tested as well. “Bob had already taught him to do that,” Stephanie said.
At the end of his training, Fairway was licensed by the company.
Fairway is also an actor. When he was about 2 and walking in Buchmueller Park, he was “discovered” by a representative from Hartz Mountain, who said, “He’s exactly what we’re looking for.”
And thus a career in modeling, TV work, and commercials was launched. He has appeared in numerous spots and his picture has been seen in many point-of-purchase store promotions.
A lot of folks in Secaucus seem to fall for Fairway when they see him in Buchmueller Park or any number of other places around town.
“He’s a fixture in the park,” Stephanie said. “Everybody knows him.”
But, like all of us, Fairway has his own life. He loves peanut butter and stuffed animals and is looking forward to summer when he can go to the park with Bob and watch folks play bocce ball.
Kate Rounds can be reached at email@example.com.