Freeway is losing his hearing, and has arthritis in his spine, making it time for him to retire, Sue Allemand said. [Photo by Murice D. Miller / Moab Sun News]

A dozen years ago, a year after Sue Allemand began fostering animals, she got a call from the Humane Society of Moab Valley, asking if she would take in a dirty apricot-colored poodle-schnauzer mix covered with burrs and goat-heads.

She said “sure,” and after a bath, the dog she named Freeway – because he was found on a freeway – turned into an adorable white, fluffy cutie with black eyes and a black nose.

“Freeway ran across the room and jumped in my lap,” Allemand said.

Allemand ended up adopting the schnoodle, and decided to have him certified as a therapy dog. Since then, Freeway has comforted patients at Moab Regional Hospital, and cheered schoolchildren and everyone else he has encountered – including youngsters at the Grand County Public Library’s Saturday story hour, where he’s delighted patrons for more than 10 years.

After participating in roughly 500 story hours, Freeway’s final appearance will be on Saturday, May 14, at 10:30 a.m. Freeway is losing his hearing, and has arthritis in his spine, making it time for him to retire, Allemand said.

“A lot of children have grown up with Freeway and Sue,” children’s library assistant Jenny Haraden said. “He meets and greets kids when they’re arriving and then we go in the large meeting room where they rub and hug him while we read stories.”

Instead of being distracting, Freeway helps kids relax so they can pay better attention to the stories, Haraden said. The schnoodle’s presence is especially effective for kids on the Autism spectrum – their minds are attentive because their hands are busy, the library assistant said.

“He helps children feel comfortable, reduces stress and helps reduce shyness,” she said.

When children engage in finger play, during rhymes and stories, Allemand lifts Freeway’s paws so he can play along, too – which kids find hilarious.

Confiding in animals

Allemand learned a long time ago the calming effect of animals on children. When she and her late husband Ed lived in New Jersey, they always had cats and dogs. In addition to raising four children of their own, they fostered another dozen children – mostly teenage boys.

“(The teenagers) would go into the woods in back of the house and talk to the animals,” Allemand said. “They’d sit and cry out and tell the dogs all their problems … I’d hear it all echo off the mountain – so I would know, and talk about (the issues) with the caseworker.”

One of those foster children, who is now 56, is coming to Moab from Georgia to visit Allemand for her birthday in May.

In 2003, Allemand began fostering animals for the Humane Society of Moab Valley. She and Freeway care for six to eight small dogs a year.

“The humane society tells me that after about five days with Freeway, the animals are ready for adoption,” Allemand said. “He shares his toys, and they get over their fright about being locked in a cage (at the shelter).”

She adopted another dog, a Shih Tzu poodle named Lucy, three weeks ago.

“I will keep fostering,” she said.

“A remarkable little animal”

Caryn McGinty has been bringing her 6-year-old daughter Maddie to the library’s Saturday story hour for the past two years. She said their family has kind of adopted Freeway until they can keep a dog of their own.

“Freeway is a great introduction for kids who are not (normally) around pets,” she said.

“I really like to pet him, and feed him,” Maddie said.

At the end of every story time, Allemand allows the children to give Freeway “carrot pennies” – small carrot circles that Freeway loves to eat.

Freeway gets a bath every Saturday morning before story hour.

“He knows when it is Saturday,” Allemand said. “One bathroom is technically his. He opens the bathroom door, and looks in,” expecting his Saturday ritual bath.

As Freeway and Allemand make their way into the library each Saturday morning, staff and patrons alike stop to pet the pooch.

“Whenever he enters a room, people stop what they’re doing. He lifts everyone’s spirits,” Haraden said.

The schnoodle has also helped spur some teachable moments – like the time when a 4-year-old girl sat down next to him and was rough with the dog. Allemand wasn’t sure she could keep bringing Freeway to the library after the incident.

Instead of talking to, or reprimanding the child, Haraden prepared a subsequent story hour about how to be a good friend, and the proper way to take care of pets. The next time they saw the girl, she was very gentle with the dog.

It’s not only Freeway who is good with kids: His owner is one of the most generous people she has ever met, Haraden said.

“Sue really cares about children – she makes quilts for children in foster care,” Haraden said. “She’s brought cookies for story time; she’s donated books. She understands how kids feel.”

“I’ll miss them so much,” Haraden said.

Schnoodle therapy dog to retire from library story hour

Whenever he enters a room, people stop what they’re doing. He lifts everyone’s spirits.