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Therapy dog helps master fight his battle with cancer
Strider comes to work with Dan Palmer several days a week. Strider is the therapy dog for Palmer, who has been battling cancer for nearly three years. The two travel around North Georgia on the weekends, visiting churches, nursing homes and libraries. - photo by FRANK REDDY

Times regional staff

Strider is a wonder in the lives of many.

As a certified therapy dog, he visits nursing homes, libraries and churches, lifting the spirits of those in need of a smile.

Perhaps the one person he’s made the happiest, though, is his master.

In his battle with cancer, Dawsonville resident Dan Palmer has found strength in Strider’s companionship.

On weekends, Palmer travels around North Georgia with the 3-year-old golden retriever.

At the nursing home, Strider enjoys the attention of senior citizens. At the library, he takes part in the Tail Wagging Tutors program in which children read him books.

At church, Palmer and Strider share a message of faith and recovery.

“He’s ministering to others and using Strider to minister and bring joy to everyone,” said Palmer’s wife, Stephanie. “He’s refusing to feel sorry for himself. He wants to reach out to people.”

Palmer was diagnosed with cancer in November 2007.

“It scared us, but we thought, ‘We can fight this,’” he said.

In January 2008, Palmer became very sick.

“I lost 40 pounds,” he said. “They told me the cancer in my liver was the size of my fist. The doctor said: ‘You’ve got three months to live. Get your affairs in order.’”

That was nearly three years ago.

“I’ve endured years of chemo(therapy),” he said. “The chemo has caused numbness in my feet, tingling in my hands and

I’ve lost some hearing. People will tell you I looked like death warmed over for about six months.”

In his battle with cancer, he credits, faith, family, friends — and Strider.

“His whole incentive has been ministering to people,” Stephanie Palmer said. “Strider has been absolutely critical in Dan’s healing.

“During the whole illness, the one consistent thing is his willingness to go out and minister with Strider,” she said. “He took this dog who was trained for him and turned around and said, ‘I want Strider to be able to help others, too.’”

Terry Wright, a family friend and neighbor, said Strider is “a loyal companion for Dan and goes everywhere with him.”

That includes making the weekend rounds with Strider, who is officially certified by Therapy Dogs International to visit nursing homes, hospitals and other institutions.

“Animals lift the spirits of people,” Dan Palmer said. “Anywhere I can take Strider, I take him. He is a faithful companion.”

Strider comes to work several days a week at Ernie Elliott Inc., where Palmer designs racing engine components.

These days, Palmer is focusing on the day-to-day healing process.

“People look at me now, and they don’t know I’m sick,” he said. “I’ve still got hair. I’m still out and about.”

He added that the illness “has helped open doors for me to talk with people about my faith.”

“They know I care, because they know I have walked through the fire, and I’m still here,” he said.