Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks
How a senior border collie inspired a retired aerospace design engineer and forged a beautiful friendship
When Ray Lisiewski agreed to take in an 8-year-old border collie named Ashley he had no idea how she would change his life.
Ashley belonged to his daughter’s boyfriend. When the couple separated, his daughter asked Ray if he would adopt Ashley.
“I never had a dog before,” says Ray, a retired aerospace design engineer. “I believe if you have a dog, it shouldn’t be home alone all day.” Retirement offered him the option to say yes. Ashley moved in with Ray and his wife, Sue.
But just three months into her stay, Ashley slipped while walking up the stairs and was paralyzed. Ray rushed her to a local emergency clinic where the staff said they would observe her over the weekend. Then Ray called Valley Veterinary to update Dr. Shreiber. “He told me I needed to get Ashley immediately to University of Pennsylvania,” says Ray. “So that’s what I did.”
After a few tense days, Ashley was stabilized and sent home with Ray. The prognosis wasn’t good, but he wouldn’t give up. “I slept with her on the floor, did the exercises for her joints, I even carried her in a sling to go outside to use the bathroom,” says Ray, 69. “I was just so intent on getting her back.”
Slowly but surely, she grew strong enough to attend therapy to learn to walk again. “When she was sick, I prayed that if she would recover, I’d work with her as a therapy dog.” As Ashely improved, Ray took the plunge and began work to have her certified as a therapy dog. Once certified, they started visiting schools, senior living facilities and hospitals. She was greeted like royalty.
“She was such a devoted dog,” says Ray, who traveled with her across Chester County in his blue Ford pickup. “People knew her name even though they didn’t know mine.” When Ashley died in May, 2011, he built a dog park “Ashley’s Park” in her memory in his backyard. Every Christmas, Ray says, Dr. Shreiber still sends him a card and remembers Ashley. “They are kind and compassionate people at Valley Veterinary,” he says. “Dr. Shreiber is a great guy. He responds to my emails if I have a question. That’s the kind of person I want to care for my dog.”
In addition to working with his new therapy dog, Hunter, Ray offers free training for dogs. His mission is simple. “Ashley taught me more than I ever expected,” says Ray. “Dogs know the benefit of kindness and gentleness,” he says. “I train people to see the world through the eyes of their dogs. Be patient, kind and consistent and show them love, that’s all you need to do.”