Sperryville column for March 6

Sally Petty’s waggin’ — and whinnying — hearts

A lot of folks in Rappahannock County know of Sally Petty, whose training has resulted in so many well-behaved dogs. Chief volunteer of Waggin’ Hearts Therapy Dogs, and proprietor of Trillium Valley Dog Training here in Sperryville, Sally grew up with horses and dogs, riding bareback across the hinterlands of Massachusetts.

Lilly the miniature horse made a recent therapeutic hospice-care visit in Great Falls.
Lilly the miniature horse made a recent therapeutic hospice-care visit in Great Falls. Joanna Pierce

As a teenager, she rode an unruly Appaloosa mare with a reputation for leaving riders frustrated with her rearing and balking, often having to be lead lined back home (as she intended all along). Sally, however, was fearless, demanded good behavior, rode her like the wind, indeed bareback because she didn’t have a saddle back then — and, according to Sally, the mare taught her a lot. So did her dad, who nurtured and supported Sally’s love of riding horses. And “my mom is still hoping I’ll outgrow them,” she laughs.

Sally also worked in Vermont as a caregiver to the elderly and infirm. After her kennel club offered a talk about therapy dogs, she was hooked, and intuited the connection with home visits to her patients. She became registered, and Waggin’ Hearts is the result of years of the animal-inspired joy she’s shared with many people in senior centers, children in schools and others in hospice situations.

Five years ago she says she became addicted to miniature horses, and now her Mini Whinny Therapy Horses is the result of her equine therapy passion. She and her husband, Bob, had purchased a miniature horse, Twinkle, as a companion for her daughter’s horse and as a gift as well to her young grandson, Cole. A year later, Bob surprised Sally with a birthday gift — Lilly, a beautiful miniature, now Sally’s favorite.

Lilly and her owner-trainer, Sally Petty of Sperryville.
Lilly and her owner-trainer, Sally Petty of Sperryville. Joanna Pierce

Fast-forward five years and 12 more miniatures and . . . Sally is busy spreading more joy and smiles with all things quadruped. Her therapeutic dogs and horses touch the hearts and souls of those in need of a gentle animal’s touch, of soft nuzzling muzzles, especially the miniatures’ sweet scent and empathetic nature. Among the places where patients enjoy the healing wealth of love offered by these beautiful beasts is the Mid-Atlantic Burn Camp, near New Market, where the horses visit with burn victims and counselors alike (many of the counselors having been burn victims themselves).

Not long ago Sally was called to visit an elderly woman in hospice, in Great Falls. Pat, in her 80s, had been still horseback riding daily until a month earlier — with her husband, the two would ride out together every day at 4 p.m. Upon entering the woman’s home with Lilly, Sally recalls Pat’s husband calling out, “Honey . . . I think there’s a horse in the dining room.” Pat started to cry, tears of joy, says Sally — who cried, too.

Thank you for spreading so much joy to so many, Sally.

Chris Green
About Chris Green 163 Articles
Chris Green (formerly Chris Doxzen) is an an executive recruiter by profession who enjoys exploring and writing about all things Rappahannock. Friends and neighbors with potential stories for her Sperryville column should email her at chrisdoxzen@gmail.com.