Julie Thompson used to be a physical therapist. Then, she became an inspiration. It’s all because of her dogs, her disease, and God, she says.
Julie’s extraordinary story began when she developed primary lateral sclerosis, a neurological disease that forced her to stop working. Then, one day she saw a picture of a volunteer using dogs to help the children at St. Vincent’s Center, now St. Vincent’s Villa, a therapeutic group home for young victims of abuse or neglect. The picture captured her imagination. Julie’s beloved Portuguese water dogs were certified through Pets on Wheels, a nonprofit organization that connects therapy dogs with people who benefit from their visits. She brought her dogs to St. Vincent’s Center, and they became an immediate hit with the children—many of whom never had a pet and always feared dogs.
“I gave the children something to touch, to hug, to get that unconditional love from,” Julie says of her time there, her eyes twinkling with delight. “I also taught them some basic training techniques and grooming—so they got to know how to behave around a dog and learn that all dogs are not mean. They spent tons of time playing fetch with them. Besides brushing or combing the dogs, they even brushed their teeth. That was a hoot!” she says, as she explains how children and dogs became her passion.
To some, being diagnosed with a chronic, debilitating illness would have no silver lining. Julie does not see it that way. “I feel blessed for my position in life and for having my disease. God’s hand is in everything,” she says, adding that it led to a renewal of her faith.
Now in Florida due to our northern climate’s effect on her disease, Julie had already thought about other ways to support St. Vincent’s. She had seen first hand how the program relies on donor support for all of the children’s enrichment activities. She decided to leave a portion of her estate to St. Vincent’s in her will. She says she believes God led her to St. Vincent’s Center and to the children served by this program. And, in doing so, God gave the children—and her—a wonderful gift.