Meet Micki Thomas & Leo!
I had the good fortune of working with Micki Thomas early in my first months at WAGS. A recent empty-nester, I had a serious hole to fill and let me tell you, Micki Thomas is a woman who knows how to help people live a full life! And now I have the pleasure of helping you get to know this amazing woman a little better.
When I met Micki, she was definitely not a woman floundering around trying to find her new retirement self. As is her nature, Micki had started her retirement planning about ten years ago. At that time, she was twenty years into a corporate career in IT. Her children were grown and moving on with their lives. When they were younger, her volunteer work focused around their activities. One she liked the best was painting the scenery and sets for their theatre productions. This led her to painting classes, and as she said, “Take enough of those and you always have a gift for your friends.” At first, it was all for fun, but then as she got more serious she had her first art show at 21C in 2013. She has had a show every few years since, and has art in the Stoneware & Company Gallery and the Point Gallery in Prospect. She also has a website where you can view her work and order a custom painting. You may have seen her work in WAGS members’ homes, in our newsletters, and at the recent WAGS fundraising raffle.
A key component to Micki’s retirement was her determination (you hear that word a lot in connection with Micki!) to have a WAGS therapy dog. She was inspired by WAGS member Dr. Karen Lanz, who spoke about her therapy dog experience during the 9/11 crisis. Karen was treating Micki’s dog with acupuncture at the time. Micki said it was “the most amazing thing I had ever heard” and it inspired her to commit to adopting a dog that would make a perfect WAGS dog.
Of course, a dog joins a family, and not everyone has the same idea about “perfect.” Micki says her husband is a “one dog person,” so she knew she had to get it right or wait another 12 years for the opportunity to arise again. She set about to learn all about WAGS pets, did extensive research, and settled on a goldendoodle who they named Leo.
Then Micki’s training began in earnest, because as you all know, it is really the handler that gets trained in the pet therapy world! Leo was “out of control on every level.” Her family assured her this dream was “never gonna happen!” But Micki, there’s that word again, was determined. She began taking him every week to Lebanon Junction to train with Sharon Gretsinger, one of WAGS founders. She heard the hope she needed when Sharon pronounced, “I don’t see anything that tells me he couldn’t do it.” That was all the encouragement this human dynamo needed to keep trying. They took class after class. They also worked with a PWP (Paws with Purpose) trainer named Cathy Gerrish. Cathy helped her see how Leo saw the world and how to motivate him to do what he needed to do.
One thing Micki learned is that this is a process. No matter what the handler’s timeline is, the final dates are all based on what the dog is ready for. She said on the evaluation day, she was not sure he would pass, and she feels she pulled his score down. Yet pass he did! Now the “out of control dog” Leo loves therapy work. He is still a challenge at home, but knows his job when he gets to a visit. You have seen this wonderful beast during meetings – would you ever have guessed he was ever anything but calm and perfect?
Micki says she knew she’d love WAGS from the very start. She’s 100 percent committed to helping new people get their start (I can surely attest to that!) She joined in 2018, and says that she wished she had been more active from the start. She held back until Leo was old enough to participate. She was not aware that there were WAGS members who were not part of Ambassador Teams. So now she encourages everyone to find their niche, even if they are not part of a Team.
She also encourages people to look at all the visitation options. Because of her history of helping at Volunteers for America (which she continues to this day), she thought she would end up visiting in an addiction recovery center. Instead, she and Leo have found their joy at Kerrick Elementary, Eisenhower Elementary, Barrett Middle School, Unity House, and recently on the Baptist Hospital Team. She says that Leo shines with the kids, in particular ones who have had high trauma.
In 2020, Micki was called by a member who was attending a U of L football game. At the time, she thought she was agreeing to be on the Board as the Member at Large (MAL). Turns out she was signing up for First VP. She was WAGS President during 2021, and despite the challenges of Covid, found it very rewarding. She feels her IT background allowed her to bring WAGS the help they needed that year to keep going in a Zoom-centered world. The Board used that time to “rethink everything” and her corporate background gave her the experience to not be bothered by chaos that needed organization.
Micki says she was “at the top and working her way down.” She’s been First VP, President, Past-President, IT Chair, Training Card Coordinator, Time Sheet Administrator, Evaluation Committee Volunteer, and Volunteer Recruiting. She was awarded Volunteer of the Year at the April 2022 Membership Meeting.
Micki thrives on having a purpose and a list to accomplish. Although her list of jobs accomplished is formidable, she feels her most important contribution has been to help people on the fringes of WAGS get more deeply involved. She strives to help people experience the “powerful magic of the human/animal connection.” She has seen children come in to meet Leo who were very distressed, and then leave fifteen minutes later with a smile on their face. She said she does nothing more than bring Leo to them, yet there is such fun and joy when they visit.
WAGS has Linda Laun’s DNA, and Micki sincerely hopes that can be maintained. She gives Linda credit for elevating therapy dog work and making it professional. She set the standards for how we should act and instilled a high level of expectation. Micki describes Linda a “a true lady, in every sense of the word.” Micki fervently hopes that we can carry those standards forward with our work.
Before we ended our talk, I asked her about her favorite WAGS visit to date. She said it was the Employee Wellness Day at the Brown Foreman Campus. She said the campus is so large it is almost like a little city. The joy came from the excited reactions from the employees who were totally surprised by the visit. It was a return for her to her corporate life, but in a fun and engaging setting.
Not sure of your role in WAGS? I encourage you to contact Micki – she’d love to help you find the purpose and commitment she has enjoyed.