Charles La Vorgna sits with Shelby, who helps eases La Vorgna’s clients.
By CARL LOVE | Contributing Columnist
August 30, 2014 at 12:00 a.m., Riverside Press Enterprise
Shelby comes in with a stuffed animal, eager for the stranger to follow her.
It doesn’t sound strange, except for two factors:
• Shelby is a 9-year-old golden retriever
• She’s greeting me in a therapist’s office.
It’s longtime Temecula local Charles La Vorgna’s business, and Shelby is the perfect creature to put somebody at ease.
A dog with a smile and a wagging tail eases a lot of life’s ills, especially when she’s nuzzling you while you talk to the therapist about what’s on your mind.
Just ask the therapist himself.
La Vorgna, 65, might be a name you’ve heard of, but you aren’t sure where. Here’s a clue: His late wife, Susan La Vorgna, has a Temecula district elementary school named after her.
She taught with the district for about 14 years before dying from cancer. Charles La Vorgna made it his life’s cause to have her name live on. After three months of lobbying Temecula school officials, they designated an elementary school (photo below) after the beloved teacher. Susan liked kitties, so of course the school mascot is a lion.
“She was the quietest person you could ever imagine, but she made a difference in her own quiet way,” her husband says.
His kids, Anne, 29, and Christine, 27, are both grown. One of the few constants in his life has been a dog. What’s that again about man’s best friend?
In Shelby’s case, she has a lot of friends. After she’s ushered you into La Vorgna’s office, she often gets a drink from her bowl. Then she’ll come over and lean on you or nuzzle. If the clients happen to forget to keep worshiping her, she’s happy to remind them. It’s the ultimate icebreaker for somebody who might be there to discuss a delicate matter.
“It’s not rocket science,” La Vorgna says. “It’s just a good dog.”
Shelby is the third dog to grace La Vorgna’s office, all golden retrievers. It started with Molly I, who was out running errands with him one day in 1988. He realized he didn’t have time to take the dog home before his next session, so he just took her to the office.
It was love at first sight for his clients. La Vorgna says they like to talk about their animals first; then gently shift to their own families.
“It was an easy transition, I didn’t have to script,” he says. “It just came naturally.”
Molly I died in 1992. She was succeeded by Molly II, who made her own history when she and La Vorgna flew to New York three times to help people recovering from the 9/11 tragedy.
Shelby arrived in 2009. As for her name, La Vorgna brought her to the office for her first day when she saw an opportunity to bolt. Shelby was out the door, racing along busy Rancho California Road before she could be hauled in. She was named for the fast car in the movie, “Gone in Sixty Seconds.”
These days, Shelby is calmer, not looking for an escape. Instead, she calms clients, an idea that’s so popular that a psychologist in La Vorgna’s suite, Sharron Williams, also has her dog greeting clients, helping them relax like only a dog can.
Yes, when it comes to man’s best friend putting us at ease, it’s not rocket science.