Spreading Smiles and Healing Hearts
Apple the golden retriever is not only an Instagram “pupfluencer,” she’s also a very busy Southern Californian! So, if you’re out and about, you just might run into this hard-working therapy dog—anywhere from USC to local elementary schools to some major Los Angeles hospitals. Together with her mother Diane, Apple is providing comfort and smiles to people in need all around SoCal through a group called Love On 4 Paws.…»
Sharing the Love
Established in 1997, Love On 4 Paws provides services to many facilities throughout the greater Los Angeles area, with 80 volunteer teams visiting about 50,000 people each year, pre-COVID. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit that relies on its volunteers to share the joy and comfort of their pets’ unconditional love with seniors, hospital patients, veterans, special needs children and adults, students of all ages, and more.
“Apple has been a therapy dog with Love on 4 Paws since 2018,” Diane explains. “When my daughter started attending the University of Southern California (USC) in 2017, I knew USC had therapy dogs visiting the campus regularly. I wanted to be able to visit USC as a therapy dog team with Apple, so I found out which therapy dog group was going to USC, and Apple and I tested with that group.”
In fact, that’s Diane’s top advice for pet parents who want to volunteer with their dogs as a therapy dog team: (1) decide where you’d like to visit, (2) find out if a therapy dog group regularly visits that location, and, if so, (3) test with that group.
“My daughter has since graduated from USC, but Apple and I are still enjoying our therapy dog visits at USC.”
Diane says, “Of all the things Apple does, the thing she’s best at is being a therapy dog. She has an innate ability to identify people who are anxious, and she really works hard to reduce their stress levels.” With the COVID pandemic taking an emotional toll on so many people, the need for animal assisted therapy is greater than ever. “Our most memorable therapy dog visit was to the USC campus in September,” relates Diane. “It was the first time therapy dogs had been on campus since March 2020 because, like so many schools, COVID forced USC to host classes online from March 2020 until this semester. Both freshmen and sophomores were experiencing campus life for the first time. Many students were missing home and were especially missing their pets. Apple met so many students that day and posed for lots of photos. And even though it was an exhausting visit, Apple continued to greet students as we walked through campus to get to our car.”
To date, Apple has visited locations such as USC, Cal State LA, Penny Lane Centers, Kadima Day School, West Los Angeles Veterans Home, USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center, Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center San Pedro, Snapchat, and Rand Corporation, with many more to come.
Photo Anabel Dflux
Joining the Family
Apple came into Diane’s life as if it were destiny. Diane’s family lost their first beloved golden retriever, Roxy, and they all felt the loss deeply. Diane’s daughter relentlessly begged her mother to bring another golden retriever into their lives. “Finally, I caved and began looking for a young (but not puppy) golden retriever,” Diane says.
Photo courtesy @apple_thegolden
“I contacted golden retriever breeders who were recommended by the Golden Retriever Club of Greater Los Angeles and learned about a 14-month-old golden retriever who had been shown in conformation, but her breeder was now looking to place her with a family. I went to meet her with my son. I didn’t tell my daughter because I didn’t want her to be disappointed if Apple wasn’t the right dog for us. We liked Apple right away, and ultimately, we were the lucky family chosen to adopt her. I decided it would be fun to surprise my daughter, who was 14 years old at the time. She was stunned when she came home from school and there was a golden retriever in our house!”
And that was how this journey began. Their first golden, Roxy—in addition to being a great family dog—was also a therapy dog. She and Diane had volunteered regularly at a Head Start nursery school near their former home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“I’m often asked how Apple and I trained to become a therapy dog team,” Diane remarks. “I didn’t specifically train Apple to become a therapy dog. She’s always been very active, and she participates in several different canine sports, some competitively.”
Shortly after getting Apple, Diane was taking her to a local park for some sunshine and exercise. Apple saw a squirrel, and it was then that Diane discovered she’s a very strong dog with a keen prey drive. “I thought I was going to be airborne as she took off to chase that squirrel! After that park visit, I realized I needed to do a lot of training with Apple. We started taking lots of training classes at a local training center, including obedience, tricks and agility,” recalls Diane.
“All the training we did for canine sports gave Apple the skills to pass the therapy dog test,” she says. “While each therapy dog group may have a slightly different test, all therapy dogs must be able to walk on a leash without pulling and respond reliably to common commands such as ‘sit,’ ‘down,’ ‘stay,’ ‘come,’ and ‘leave it.’ They also must welcome interactions with strangers.”
Canine sports help Apple stay mentally and physically stimulated, while developing an even tighter bond with her family. Competitions are fun, and they’re a great way for dogs to get excited about their play, work off excess energy, and feel accomplished when they’re done.
“Before Apple, I‘d never competed in canine sports—I didn’t know much about them,” Diane admits. “Agility was the first canine sport we tried. We began competing in 2016, and we now compete at the highest AKC level (Master).”
Along with agility, Apple also competes in Fast CAT (coursing ability test), nose work (sometimes called scent work), dock diving, obedience, rally, and treibball. In total, Apple has earned almost 50 American Kennel Club (AKC) titles and more than a dozen additional non-AKC titles.
“I’ve really enjoyed training and competing in dog sports and encourage all pet owners to try out a canine sport,” Diane says. “Canine sports are the perfect outlet for dogs, and they strengthen the dog-handler relationship. While training and competing in canine sports can be time consuming, it’s really beneficial to both the dog and handler.”
All in a Day’s Work
Photo courtesy @apple_thegolden
Apple is a consummate professional, on the field as an athlete, at work as a therapy dog, and also as an actor, with numerous credits on her resume. Apple has participated in several commercial ads, for such companies as Panasonic and American Express.
“She enjoys performing on set, and I’m always proud of how well she does,” relays Diane. “Apple did a project with Allianz Group over the summer that paired therapy dogs with athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, who were under the stress of COVID restrictions and no family members being allowed to travel with them to the Games. During the shooting of that short film, we enjoyed visiting with Olympic skateboarders Mariah Duran of the U.S. and Leticia Bufoni of Brazil.”
PHOTO COURTESY: SARAH DEREMER/@DOGTOGRAPHER.LA 7
In another on-camera project, Apple maintains a popular Instagram account (@apple_thegolden) that has certainly contributed to her canine stardom. Because Apple doesn’t have opposable thumbs, Diane does most of the talking on Instagram, sharing their adventures to beautiful locations in California, supporting important causes, and continuing to educate the public on the joys of therapy dog work.
“Apple’s Instagram account was started by my daughter as soon as we got Apple. I wasn’t on Instagram at the time and didn’t really pay much attention to it,” Diane remarks. “When my daughter left to study in France for her junior year of high school, she asked me to take over Apple’s Instagram account, and I’ve managed it ever since. I began to meet people and dogs through Instagram, some virtually and some at in-person meetups. I’ve done some crazy group dog photo shoots with friends I’ve met through Instagram. I’ve explored places in Southern California that I never knew existed until I learned about them through friends on Instagram.”
And what is Apple best known for on Instagram? Fashion! She loves to show off her many stylish outfits and prides herself on being the most fashion-centric pup around. Diane remembers, “When Apple was almost 4 years old, we went to a golden retriever Valentine’s Day celebration. They had props and costumes there, and Apple happily wore a tutu and glasses for some photos. Since then, Apple has collected a large wardrobe of her own!”
And she loves to share with her followers, wherever she goes. “We’ve gone to Pups at the Park at Dodgers Stadium a few times,” Diane says. “It’s an annual event where pups are allowed to attend a game. Apple has a few Dodgers outfits. This year, Pups at the Park was held in early October, at the last regular season game. Apple was named Most Spirited Dodgers Fan at the game and was shown on the jumbotron before the game! When we went to Pups at the Park at Dodgers Stadium in 2018, she and a few other dogs were invited to go on the field, and we met third baseman Justin Turner and second baseman Kiké Hernández (now with the Boston Red Sox). Justin Turner picked Apple as his favorite pup that day because of their matching hair color.”
It’s hard to express just how profoundly a great dog can affect—and even redirect— your life. Diane puts it this way: “Apple has changed my life in ways I never could have envisioned when I decided to adopt a rambunctious 14-month-old golden retriever at the behest of my daughter. I’d had dogs all my life. I’d volunteered with a therapy dog before. With Apple, I’ve gone places and done things that I never could have imagined.”
From competing twice at the Golden Retriever National Specialty to therapy visits for some of the largest companies in the world, Apple has done her share of bringing comfort to countless people. This sunny girl’s propensity to bring smiles to the world around her is a natural gift.
Get to know Apple by following her on Instagram at @apple_thegolden.