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Puppy love helps Hughes heal

Jim and Diane Hughes, of Oxford, with their English cocker spaniel puppies Cooper (left) and Becky. (click for larger version)
March 05, 2014 - Oxford resident Jim Hughes spent many years bringing joy and smiles to hospital patients and nursing home residents with his delightful therapy dog Mitchell.

How appropriate that a little canine-based therapy is now lifting his spirits and helping him recover from the tragic loss of Mitchell and his other dog, Sarah.

"You never replace a dog," he said. "You get another one and it's a totally different dog with a different attitude, but you love them just as much. And they give (that love) right back to you."

Mitchell and Sarah were killed in a Sept. 13, 2013 car accident in front of The Golden Nugget restaurant on M-24 in Oxford Township. Jim, who was driving, was severely injured in the crash and didn't come home from the hospital until October.

Since then, he and his wife, Diane, have welcomed a pair of English cocker spaniel puppies, Becky and Cooper, into their Dennison St. home.

Becky, who is Diane's dog, arrived back in November. She helped begin healing the pain in Jim's heart.

"Within a day, I felt 100 percent better," he said. "It was good just to hear a dog running through the house again."

Becky's presence helped make it easier to deal with Mitchell's absence.

"I couldn't even talk about Mitchell before. Now, I can," he said. "But if I talk too much about him, I still get tears in my eyes. I was really connected to that dog."

Becky's arrival also paved the way for Jim to get a puppy of his own, Cooper, who arrived about a month ago.

"He's really a sweet little guy," Diane said.

"Cooper likes everybody," Jim said. "He's not shy at all. All he wants to do is give you a kiss. You come to the house, he won't leave you alone."

Jim is planning to train Cooper, who's 4 months old, to follow in Mitchell's paw prints and become a therapy dog.

"Originally, I wasn't going to do it again," he said. "It's a lot of work."

But the folks at Beaumont Hospital in Troy talked him into it and he figured why not because training dogs has been such an important part of his life and he doesn't have any other hobbies.

"I don't hunt or fish or golf or bowl," Jim said. "I know how to train dogs."

Cooper's already got his very own hospital identification badge. The pup will begin his therapy dog training when he's 6 months old and Jim expects to have him tested and certified by November or December.

It appears Cooper is naturally suited for this type of work. "He's fantastic," Jim said. "He's just easygoing and smart. Whatever you show him to do, he just does it. Temperament is everything."

Jim noted that following the accident, he received an outpouring of support and well wishes. "I think I got over 100 cards," he said. "It makes you feel like a million bucks to know you're really thought of and people love you."

Teacher Barbara Johnston's fourth-grade class at Oxford Elementary had even offered to conduct a fund-raiser to buy him a new dog. He really appreciated that.

"It's heartwarming," said Jim, who took Cooper to visit the class last week as a thank-you for the kind offer. "I just couldn't believe someone wanted to do that for me."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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