While many people around Davidson may know our long-standing Mayor, Mr. John Woods, and his wife, Diana Woods, perhaps not all know about his flat-coated retriever named Aretha. She is the 3-year-old dog of Mr. and Mrs. Woods. Aretha is a new addition to the Woods household – Mr. Woods is a Davidson native, marrying his wife Diana in 2001. Diana Woods first began showing flat-coated retrievers competitively in the 1980’s and brought the first set of flat-coated retrievers to their home, kick-starting their partnership with these kind-hearted breed of dogs.


Aretha, like her late great-grandmother and grandmother, is a therapy dog. Becoming a therapy dog entails a bit of work. It involves passing the Therapy Dogs International Test, having the owner certified, and generally having a gentle temperament. The flat-coated retrievers are known for their calm demeanor, good nature, and southern hospitality. Part of how the Woods are able to keep their dogs so good-natured is through early socialization. Essentially, after each litter is born, named, and given three weeks of privacy, the Woods will introduce the litters to friendly children in their own backyard, teaching their dogs to have a kind of charm and friendliness with humans. When Aretha’s puppy litter was just seven weeks old, Diana Woods brought the tiny pups to Davidson College during final exams, giving the college students a chance to de-stress while continuing the socialization of their new puppies. Once the puppies grow a bit older – about 8 weeks – they go to their new owners, with the exception of one puppy that the Woods keep.


Aretha, the dog they decided to keep, shows her therapy skills in the Pines retirement home every week, where she serves as a therapy dog to the Pines residents. Whether she is playing gently with the residents or simply letting them pet her, it is always assured that when Aretha walks in, everyone is going to have a good time. Mayor Woods explains why he finds it important to bring Aretha to the Pines: “People love animals, and we love to touch animals. In extreme health conditions, that love is magnified. Dogs reconnect people to their world, sometimes, a world they’ve even lost. It’s kind of sad but it’s a beautiful thing.”


It seems the Woods’ dogs have been doing this for generations. When asked about one of his favorite memories with his dogs, Mr. Woods reminisced about a Pines visit with Aretha’s great-grandmother, Paige. It was a day like any other; Mr. Woods was coming in, visiting the patients with Paige. He happened to stop by the Alzheimer Unit, where he took his time, letting patients pet his dog as much as they pleased. There was a particular patient, who, after petting Paige, looked Mr. Woods in the eye and said, “I had a dog once “. Not surprised by the pleasantries, Mr. Woods smiled, only later learning that that was the first words she had spoken in three months. “I saw her eyes sharpen {for a moment with Paige} … it’s amazing what happens between a person and an animal… its magic”.


There are many more moments just like this, involving both residents and staff alike, that come from years of visiting the Pines with these dogs. Aretha, just like the singer Aretha Franklin whom she was named after, seems bring her own kind of magic wherever she goes. Whether it be as simple as de-stressing busy college students or even reconnecting old timers to a new world, she brings the community closer together, not unlike the Mayor himself. Her good nature, kind temperament, and happy-go-lucky attitude are sure to bring many residents of Davidson much happiness for years to come.