Back in 2009, Cyndi Lessard wanted a dog—a big one. She and her husband had decided to adopt four-year-old Logan, and they knew immediately: He’s the one.
What they didn’t know was that Logan would unexpectedly kick-start a “second career” for Cyndi—initially providing comfort to an ailing loved one and eventually serving many more people in need.
A retail Real Estate Manager based in Austin, Texas, Cyndi joined CBRE in 2015 as part of the UCR merger. We spoke with her to learn more about her volunteer work with therapy dogs and what she’s learned from her canine companions.
Before you describe your work with Logan, tell us… What made him so special?
We instantly connected. Even in that very first visit, he was so comfortable and trusted us completely...just a wonderful addition to our family from day one.
Is that what rekindled your interest in volunteering with pet therapy?
In part, yes. When we adopted Logan, my husband's grandmother was losing her three-year battle with cancer. I kept thinking that a visit from a dog would lift everyone’s spirits.
Until Logan, though, I never owned a dog with the right temperament. When we adopted him, he had no training. It was important for him to have manners in daily life and bond with our family, so we started taking classes. We passed basic obedience training, then obtained his Canine Good Citizen certificate. I enjoyed it so much, I looked for more opportunities and that’s when we found The Dog Alliance (TDA).
It didn’t take long for Logan to catch TDA’s attention, right?
We decided to train Logan as a therapy dog, not a service dog—it's an important distinction. Therapy dogs serve and comfort many people for a wide variety of needs, but they can’t go into public places that don’t allow animals unless specifically invited. Service dogs perform specific tasks to assist a single person that they live with, such as seeing eye and seizure alert dogs. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they are permitted to enter public establishments that typically don’t allow animals.
Logan and I cruised through all the required training and became one of TDA’s first active volunteer pet therapy teams. Unfortunately, we lost Logan to cancer in 2014, but he and I had a great run.
We have two Great Danes at home now, and one of them—Rocky—is my second therapy dog, so I still volunteer as his handler. I am also serving on the Pet Therapy Steering Committee and as an Evaluator for new teams testing to certify with TDA. Emma, our other dog, is not social with people, so we didn’t consider her as a therapy dog candidate.
It sounds like an incredible experience. Do the skills you’ve learned handling therapy dogs translate beyond that setting?
Absolutely! Volunteering takes me outside myself, so I can focus on helping others. It also requires a lot of public speaking, something I’m not naturally comfortable doing, so I get plenty of practice.
Overall, it’s a level of service that consistently builds my skills set for my work here at CBRE. I manage a 650,000-sq.-ft. retail portfolio that requires a lot of attention, so an outward-facing attitude is critical. I have to stay actively engaged with the people in my properties, and vigilant in anticipating their needs.
Logan, Emma and Rocky have helped me through periods of loss, grief, illness and stress. Their limitless devotion and affection keep inspiring me to pass that gift on. I’ve been at this for over eight years now, and I’ll keep doing it for as long as I can.