“Thor is a therapy dog, he’s made to be loved and to be petted, but he is not a service dog. They’re both important, but extremely different roles,” Patricia said. “Everything he went through, he was a trooper, he was never out of sorts. We knew then he would be our therapy dog.”

Dropped off with a large gash and an unconcerned owner, Thor was going to be put down. 

About three and a half years ago, Patricia and Jim Cumper of the Coffman Bend area of Camden County, were living in Rolla when they heard Thor’s story. Despite already owning two dogs - a German Shepherd named Odin and a pit-bull mix named Gunner - the Cumpers and their veterinarian decided to take a chance on the malnourished, injured and infected 18-month old German Shepherd with an all-beige coat. 

After the previous owner agreed to sign the dog away, instead of foregoing surgery and euthanizing it, the surgery was performed and Thor was patched up, but that wouldn’t be the end of his problems. It was discovered after the surgery that he was heartworm positive and would have to undergo three months of intensive arsenic treatments to kill the parasites. Thor got so sick from the treatment he developed mange which would delay but not deter his comeback. 

It took about nine months for Thor to regain full health, and for the Cumpers, it was one of the best things that has ever happened to the couple. 

“Thor’s been through a lot,” Patricia said. “I say they have to be born to be a therapy dog, they could sense the pain in people. He’s very calm, very sociable, very good with new things.” 

Once the Cumpers began caring for Thor, his body weight jumped from 80 to 110 pounds and they began basic obedience training as well as advanced obedience training like Odin and Gunner had done before. However, Thor was different, he was less skittish, could resist the urge to bark and was very quick at picking up on hand and audible signals.

“When you’re going through training with a dog, they’re training you too,” Patricia said. “A lot of it is more human interaction with the dog, knowing your dog. Thor doesn’t like to be completely surrounded, he gets overwhelmed, so we have to pay attention to the situation they’re in. It takes a lot of time with patience, a lot of time with people. No matter how well trained, an animal is still an animal and you have to keep your dog safe.” 

To become a licensed therapy dog, Thor had to pass the K-9 Good Citizen Award test administered through the American Kennel Club and then the Cumpers hooked up with PawPrints of Missouri in Rolla where Thor had to undergo, along with his handlers, more training and testing involving real-life scenarios.

“They can’t bark when they’re working. There are a lot of strict rules, they have to be on a four-foot leash at all times and must remain with their handlers, that’s why me and Jim are both handlers. They can’t come within two feet of another dog,” Patricia said. “We’re covered by $5 million of insurance when we work, that’s why we have to be certified and trained.” 

When the Cumpers moved back to the Lake area - Jim was originally born in Macks Creek - they got involved with Climax Springs and Macks Creek school districts. Thor and the Cumpers had been visiting hospitals in Rolla, Fort Leonard Wood, senior citizen homes and foster kids in Buffalo. 

Donning costumes and attire from Superman, a bunny and an alligator to a bandana, a military vest and an elf costume, Thor has brought joy to homesick veterans, young and old, to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients and to children who need a non-judgmental friend. 

“We used to do five hours a day and that was way too long, he was just drained at the end of it. People just open and talk, and for us, sometimes, it’s tough to deal with those things, because you really have to be open to people’s emotions,” Patricia said. But on the other hand, “If he doesn’t go for a while, he wants to go back. The kids love him. He’s become a pet-a-holic, we just can’t do what 20-30 kids can do. When he comes home after working, he’s exhausted and out cold for a couple hours. Dogs can really pick up on our emotions.” 

When Thor isn’t working, he’s relaxing or palling around with Odin. 

“Lazy,” Jim said with a laugh. “They’re very lazy. Odin shares the recliner with me. They’ll chase squirrels and chipmunks around the backyard and then come inside and lay around.” 

The Cumpers had to put down Gunner last winter after what they believe was instant rage syndrome caused by seizures. It was one of the hardest decisions they ever had to make, but it makes them appreciate the other two even more. 

“We’re pretty blessed to have both of them. Thor has brought so much into our lives, it’s pretty amazing. He loves baths and he loves to be brushed, but he sheds year round and we’re not sure exactly why,” Patricia said. “The kids now know he’s not a German Shepard, he’s a ‘German Shedder,’ they like to get a hand full of hair out of him and I have to tell them to go throw it away.” 

“Teachers are learning not to wear black on Thor days,” Jim added. “Odin sheds in the spring and the fall usually, this one, year round for some reason.” 

“It’s a pain, but we put up with it because we love him,” Patricia said conclusively as Thor’s ears perked up. 

The Cumpers said it was extremely important to continue introducing Thor to new experiences from PetSmart to Kansas City’s RenFest to restaurants that allow dogs outside, and they like to educate people on the differences between therapy, comfort and service dogs. 

Being a therapy dog, Thor can only go to hospitals, senior centers and schools that allow canine programs, but not any businesses for the most part. 

“A comfort dog that’s a dog you have a letter from your doctor that says your wellbeing improves with this pet, you can live with them in some housing that doesn’t allow pets. You can’t take them to restaurants, bring them in every store, although some people do,” Patricia said. “Service dogs can go anywhere, but we’re having a huge problem. A service dog should be almost invisible, but we have people going on the internet and buying a little card that means nothing and buying a vest, it’s not legal and people shouldn’t be able to do it, but it is being abused around the country.” 

However, around the state, the Cumpers are energized by the efforts of various organizations who are providing all three types of dogs to those in need, especially veterans — a cause near and dear to Jim’s heart as a veteran himself —  and children in the court system. 

“Thor is a therapy dog, he’s made to be loved and to be petted, but he is not a service dog. They’re both important, but extremely different roles,” Patricia said. “Everything he went through, he was a trooper, he was never out of sorts. We knew then he would be our therapy dog.”