Local News

Saturday, Dec 29 2012 03:00 PM

Seniors crushed as therapy dog goes missing

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    By Courtesy Tamara Van Dam

    Baxter, an 8-year-old Schnauzer who helps seniors and special-needs children development language and social skills, went missing Dec. 22 and her owner and those clients are heart-broken.

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By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN

Eight-year-old Baxter is a real comfort to the seniors at the Delano District Skilled Nursing Facility. The Schnauzer jumps on their beds to be petted and held and hangs out with them in their activities room.

When owner Tamara Van Dam of Bakersfield -- a speech therapist who works with the residents -- brings her other dogs there instead, everyone asks, "Where's Baxter? Where's Baxter," she said.

So Van Dam, those seniors and the facility staff are heartbroken that the white dog with a short tail and floppy ears has gone missing.

The afternoon of Saturday, Dec. 22, Van Dam let Baxter and her other dogs have some play time in her fenced-in front yard at the corner of La Cresta Drive and Magnolia Avenue in northeast Bakersfield. After just a few minutes, she went to call the dogs inside and found that Baxter had somehow gotten out, she said.

Van Dam thinks a good samaritan thought the dog was lost and picked him up, based on what a neighbor saw. He saw a 10- or 12-year-old girl get out of a light-colored, small SUV being driven by a woman, scoop up Baxter and ride away with him.

Baxter is also beloved by children Van Dam works with in the Edison School District, she said. One girl with Down's syndrome comes to school early so she can pet him.

Van Dam uses Baxter to help clients develop language, speech and social skills plus provide comfort and relieve stress.

"He's just a perfect fit," Van Dam said. "He's so good with the kids, the seniors love him and the staff love him."

He's such a great pet that Van Dam agreed to take him home to Bakersfield last year from friends in Maine who decided they wanted larger dogs. Van Dam, who'd known Baxter for years and was happy to adopt him, flew him across the country under her seat, as her carry-on luggage.

Van Dam asked anyone who may know where Baxter is to email her at tamaraslp@gmail.com.

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