Kernel the giant Great Dane arrived at Alyssa Berkovitz's home 7 years ago to be trained as a therapy dog.
Ms. Berkovitz, 32, from Boston, didn't intend to train the enormous white-and-black-spotted Kernel to become her own service dog but the childhood loss of her mother had left her traumatized. So she trained Kernel as her own.
"I need to help myself before I can help other people," Ms. Berkovitz told The Epoch Times.
Sure, Kernel helped Ms. Berkovitz heal—but he's also touched so many others since then, including Cal and Emma (a pseudonym), the elderly couple Ms. Berkovitz befriended while dog-hiking through Cat Rock Park last year.
Ms. Berkovitz, who owns her own off-leash dog hiking business, jaunts here with "her crew" on a daily basis. Older folks, she said, are typically standoffish seeing so many dogs loose when the pack comes moseying through.
"Some people just find it intimidating," she said, "seeing such a big group of dogs in the woods."
But Cal was different. As he sat on a bench, something inside the elderly gentleman wearing a hat seemed to bring Kernel, who hadn't been feeling like himself that day, back to life.
"Kernel had many health issues in the past," Ms. Berkovitz said.
The gentle, giant dog wasn't shy about leaving some slobber on the man's bright red jacket. He just smiled.
Their meeting the couple that day seemed to "hit the reset button" for the Great Dane, Ms. Berkovitz said.
"It was so memorable."
For a time, whenever the crew and the couple crossed paths in the park, the pair were "so sweet, so excited to see my dog," Ms. Berkovitz said.
"Then I didn't see them for several months."
Until one day, she saw Emma by herself, and no Cal.
Ms. Berkovitz greeted Emma, "Hi, where's Cal?"
"He passed away," the elderly woman told her. "I came to look for you."
Shocked by the news, Ms. Berkovitz was beside herself. She cried hysterically, for she hadn't expected Emma to say something like that and hadn't known that Cal was sick.
"I guess it happened less than a week prior," Ms. Berkovitz told the newspaper, adding that this was in March. "I thought it was so amazing that she was already out on a walk.
"I was like, 'Oh my gosh, let's exchange information and we can take you on our walks with us, so you're not alone."
The giant Great Dane Kernel was, technically, designated as Ms. Berkovitz's service dog. Yet the lumbering, loving hound has been on trips to bingo halls to visit older folks and to the hospital to delight deaf children.
Kernel also adored Ms. Berkovitz's nana before she passed away. When Nana broke her hip, they visited her. As Ms. Berkovitz had been raised by her grandparents, they were extremely close, so seeing Kernel and Nana together made the whole world seem right again, Ms. Berkovitz said.
Kernel bonding with Cal and Emma now meant something to everyone.
At a minimum, today, Ms. Berkovitz and the crew meet Emma once a week for walks in the park. The elderly lady waits for them at the very bench where Cal had sat. She says she feels welcomed.
Yet, several weeks ago Emma suffered a herniated disk and hasn't been able to walk as often. But in late August, she was back on the trail, albeit slower on her feet.
"She's celebrated my birthday with me, and we celebrated Mother's Day with her," Ms. Berkovitz said, adding that the crew love her and have accepted her. Emma was bequeathed the title, "pack grandma."
Once a professional photographer, Emma, 82, now loves photographing the fun-loving bunch on their outings.
Ms. Berkovitz calls the whole package "wholesome and heartwarming," and a good chance for everyone to get some nature. "I just thoroughly enjoy my time with her."