Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

Social Worker's Book Is Fond Tribute to Beloved Therapy Dog

Demarest, NJ: Luke, the therapy dog, was a beloved member of the Academy of the Holy Angels community until his passing at age 15 in April 2017. AHA Licensed Clinical Social Worker Sister Mary Foley, Luke’s long-time companion and handler, recently published a book, “Luke the Border Collie: My Early Years,” that traces this extraordinary animal’s journey from North Carolina to New Jersey.

During the 13 years they spent together, Luke and S. Mary brought comfort to those at AHA, and in other parts of the country that needed healing after traumatic events. Luke was also a familiar face at several local libraries, where he served as a non-judgmental listener for children practicing their reading skills.

“The school purchased Luke in 2004 as a trained 'goose herder.' We had a terrible problem with geese all over the property.  It took him over 18 months of multiple trips to the fields and other areas of the property each day to get the geese to mostly stay away,” S. Mary said of Luke’s original assignment at Holy Angels.

“Two years after we got him, we realized just how gentle and sensitive he was. We had him tested with Therapy Dogs International. He already had the obedience part of the test down cold. The rest of it; he was a natural.”  

S. Mary and Luke visited Newtown, Connecticut, multiple times after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and traveled to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as part of Disaster Stress Relief Team of Therapy Dogs International following a series of tornadoes. In Connecticut, a child who had become reticent following her brother’s death, began to speak while she was petting Luke. 

“One of the survivors of the Sandy Hook shooting did not want to go into church after the funerals of her teacher and friends. Luke went into the church with her and she was OK after that,” S. Mary added. 

During their trip to Alabama, a boy whose home was destroyed by the tornadoes kept petting Luke and saying, “Dog soft.” 

Luke and S. Mary also traveled to Boston after the bombing at that city’s marathon. 

“We have been in countless local schools visiting elementary children and high school students,” S. Mary said. “We have gone to nursing homes and private homes when requested. For a number of years, we went once a week to Rockland Children's Psychiatric Center and High Focus' Adolescent Outpatient Psych Program.” 

Touching a dog (and other animals) raises levels of oxytocin, a calming hormone, and lowers levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, S. Mary said of the “science” of therapy animals. With Luke, there seemed to be much more than a basic chemical reaction. His gentle nature made him beloved everywhere he went. 

“The first library Luke went to was Tenafly Library. I could tell from the start that he really liked to listen to the children read to him,” S. Mary noted. “We spent most of our library time at the Harrington Park Library (Channel 9 did a special on him one night), and occasionally we would go to the Cresskill Library.” 

Luke was always popular with the young readers, until one notable occasion when he fell asleep while a girl was reading to him. “She got very upset,” S. Mary said. “I got Luke to pretend that he was only resting his eyes, and she calmed down.” 

This dedicated team’s work was appreciated far and wide, and their commitment to mental health led to S. Mary and Luke’s receipt of the Courage Award from Care Plus, NJ, in April 2014. 

Luke, however, was not all-business all the time. He loved playing fetch with a tennis ball, and especially enjoyed receiving treats from his friends at Holy Angels. “Luke was a very fun-loving dog. He was always doing something to make me laugh,” S. Mary recalled. “Dogs aren't supposed to understand human language, but Luke seemed to always know what we were talking about.” 

Maverick McCarthy of Mahwah created the endearing illustrations for S. Mary’s book. McCarthy graduated from AHA in 2016, and is currently pursuing a degree in illustration with a concentration in publication design at Savanna College of Art and Design. 

“Luke the Border Collie: My Early Years” is available at Barnes & Noble, in the AHA School Store, and on and It will also be an ebook. 

S. Mary’s book will continue Luke’s legacy of giving to others: Proceeds will go toward the Holy Angels Scholarship Fund. 

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in New Jersey. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.



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