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Raising spirits in Cuba City
Epione Rosie 0511
Sandy Hocker of Cuba City brings her dog, Rosie, to Epione Pavilion to comfort patients. - photo by Dena Harris

CUBA CITY—The residents at Epione Pavilion in Cuba City look forward to a friendly face to stroll down the hallways each week, especially the one with a fluffy white tail wagging in her outfit complete with sneakers.

Rosie is a 4-year-old maltese/poodle mix that was rescued from a puppy mill last summer. She was raised to breed puppies and was surrendered because she wasn’t producing the quantity desired.

“When we first got Rosie, she had never been out in the sunlight, had never touched grass,” Terri Downing, a volunteer for HEART (Helping Every Animal Rescue Team) Rescue out of Decorah, Iowa, said. “She was terrified when we first got her. Because of how dogs are treated at puppy mills, sometimes they have a hard time warming up to people. Rosie just wants to be loved.”

Rosie was rescued in May and was adopted by Sandy Hocker of Cuba City in June.

“I grew up having dogs and my kids have dogs,” Hocker said. “I was looking for a dog of my own, but not really. My daughter found HEART Rescue and I filled out the paperwork. When Rosie came along, it was the perfect time and the perfect fit.”

Now Rosie goes everywhere with Sandy, even to Epione Pavilion when Sandy wants to visit her family staying there.

“I visited my cousin and aunt and the people who saw I had Rosie with me asked if they could hold and pet her,” Hocker said. “I was asked if I would bring her back again. She likes it there so much that she doesn’t want to leave. She digs in her feet and puts up a fight to stay a little while longer.”

Hocker keeps the residents entertained by dressing Rosie up in a variety of outfits, including shoes. Last week during her visit, Hocker had Rosie in Converse sneakers as well as holiday costumes.

“She lets me put anything on her,” Hocker said. “She isn’t fussy about it. I think she likes the attention and she knows I’m not going to hurt her.”

Because of Rosie’s conditions in the puppy mill, she was malnourished and had to have all of her teeth removed. That, and being a breed that doesn’t shed much, makes her a good dog for visiting places like Epione Pavilion.

“She is definitely a hit here,” MaryAnn Burbach, activities director at Epione Pavilion, said. “She provides comfort to the residents. We also have a lab named Brady who comes in. Everybody knows when he is in the house.”

Burbach said the residents flock to Rosie. One in particular, Beverly Meana, is drawn to Rosie each visit. And Rosie is happy to comply to snuggling in her lap.

“This is her mission in life—to love people,” Downing said. “She came into Sandy’s life and she had another purpose, to bring joy to others.”

Rosie was Downing’s first foster dog and made a huge impact on her. Downing helped acclimate Rosie to life outside of a cage and prepare her for a forever home.

HEART Rescue fosters animals in several states in the Midwest. They take in any unwanted animals, not just dogs and cats, and provide veterinary work needed. All animals are either spayed or neutered, checked for any health conditions and microchipped for identification before they are adopted.

“It is very rewarding to foster an animal,” Downing said. “It is hard, but you see the reward one animal at a time as you see them go to a good home.”

Downing encourages anyone looking for a pet to check out the local animal shelters to choose an animal that is looking for a home. If you are unsure if you are ready for a new animal, check to see if you can foster an animal before considering adopting, allowing you to keep a dog or cat in your home until it gets adopted.

Bailing Out Benji, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to raising awareness to animal welfare issues, especially puppy mills, works closely with HEART and other rescue organizations to find homes to animals in unhealthy situations.

“They are fighting for more rights for animals,” Downing said.

Downing warned that many pet stores sell dogs raised in a puppy mill situation.

“Iowa is the second-worst state for puppy mills,” Downing said. Iowa is second to Missouri, the state with the most puppy mills, according to Downing.

For more information at HEART Rescue, visit All donations to HEART Rescue are used for animal care.

For more about Bailing Out Benji, go to