Penn Oak Love Me Tender, otherwise known as Elvis, is a spry four-year old Norfolk Terrier with a career busy enough to rival that of his superstar namesake.
Frank Rogers of Merchantville, NJ, bred the little dog and placed him with Patti and Marty Shenkman of Tenafly. Patti had seen ‘Coco,’ Ch. Cracknor Cause Celebre, on television and told her husband, “When the time is right for us, that’s the dog we’re going to get.”
The time was “right” in 2007 after Patti had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. A Norfolk would be the perfect companion for her as she began to reimagine her life.
Lengthy online searches eventually lead the couple to a singleton male puppy. The black and tan had a potential home already, but his destiny was to be with the Shenkmans. Patti had found her companion.
Because Patti likes “real names,” she chose ‘Elvis’ as the dog’s call name. The Shenkmans were married in Las Vegas where Marty had hired an Elvis impersonator to walk Patti down the aisle. “Love Me Tender” is both the little Norfolk’s registered name and the song the impersonator sang during the ceremony.
Back home in New Jersey, the couple and their new addition settled into a routine. One day while walking in town, Patti noticed a few women coming out of a building with dogs in tow. She stopped to say hello and learned they were registered therapy dogs, part of Therapy Dogs Inc. This program interested Patti and, with temperament test and paperwork completed, the pair was soon paying visits to assisted living facilities and nursing homes throughout the area.
Patti and Elvis schedule about three visitations each month. One afternoon, at the Wellington Nursing Home in Hackensack, Patti was asked if she would take her dog into the room of a particular resident who was not eating and not talking. “Can you bring your dog in to see my mother?” a visitor inquired. “He’s so cute!”
In the room, the woman’s mother sat in a wheelchair, seemingly detached from everything and everyone around her. Elvis immediately began wagging his tail, so Patti lifted him up off the ground. A conversation ensued between the older woman and the little dog. These were the first words she’d spoken since her arrival at the facility. “Elvis got through to her,“ Patti says. The woman’s daughter, who was so happy to see the life in her mother’s eyes again, thanked Patti profusely.
Patti and Elvis also participate in the Read To Dogs program at the Tenafly public library. Through two 20-minute sessions per visit, Elvis listens as children read aloud to him without feeling threatened or fearing correction. “It’s a very special feeling to be able to give such a huge gift,” says Patti of their work with the program.
“It’s a pleasure to know we’re sharing him with strangers and he brings them so much joy.”
In 2006 the Shenkmans established their own foundation to raise awareness of the special financial needs of people living with chronic illness. Marty, an estate-planning attorney, began writing extensively on the subject. Soon he was accepting speaking engagements around the country with groups of accountants, lawyers, insurance companies, and financial planners, as well as with patients and their families. Patti would join him on these engagements, but airport travel became increasingly difficult for her.
Marty’s solution was to find another way to get to his audience, and RV4thecure.org was born. Now Marty and Patti travel together in comfort, raising awareness about the silent and invisible health issues so many people face. And thanks to the new travel arrangements, Elvis now accompanies them on every engagement.
“Wherever we go,” says Patti, “Elvis is the first one through the door. He’s fearless. He sleeps through the presentations, but when he hears the applause at the end, he starts barking. The guests always come up and ask questions about him,” Patti delights. “He steals the show!”
Elvis is included in all of the activities the Shenkmans enjoy. In 2010 their son Neil ran with Elvis in a Tenafly 5K run for the third straight year. The race is a fundraiser for the local school system, and the pair finished first in the 19-24 age group. Elvis is not only an ambassador; he’s an athlete too!
Elvis’ breeder is thrilled with the home his puppy enjoys. “I’m very happy with what the Shenkmans are doing with him,” Rogers says. “More people should consider the breed’s activity level when they’re getting a dog. Norfolk have a lot of energy.” Elvis is proof positive of this.
“He’s in tune with what he’s doing,” Patti says, whether he’s visiting a nursing home, helping kids to read, traveling in the RV or running a race. He’s happy just to be with the people who love him. According to Patti, “He has a really good soul.”
Love me tender, indeed!