Emily Quiles may live in Manhattan, but she has a piece of Junction City in her heat.
That piece is a dog named Opie, who she met and fell in love with about two years ago when she offered to foster him for the Junction City/Geary County Animal Shelter.
Opie was just an underweight puppy back then, in need of care but unable to be adopted or fostered within the Junction City limits because he was recognizably a pitbull.
Opie had been surrendered by his owners.
“The person that brought him in said that he was found on the street,” Quiles said. “He was super malnourished, and come to find out, it was actually the owners surrendering him.”
Junction City woman Natasha Santiago used to work at the Junction City/Geary County Animal Shelter and she was present when Opie came into the shelter.
The dog was in such bad shape, it was impossible to guess his age. His teeth had begun falling out prematurely.
She remembers the condition he was in and why Quiles as asked to foster.
“We asked Emily if she would be able to foster him, since she doesn’t live in Junction City,” Santiago said. “We were also kind of hoping that she would fail — foster fail — it was kind of intentionally. And she did.”
She describes Quiles as “an amazing pet parent.”
Once in Quiles’ care, the puppy found a surrogate mother in the form of one of Quiles’ other dogs, Gertie, another pitbull mix.
These days, Opie’s future is much brighter. The once-tiny puppy has grown to weigh about 70 pounds.
He’s training to be a music therapy dog at her school, Miss Emily’s Music School, like two of Quiles’ other pit mixes, Abrams and Gertie.
When he has finished his training, Opie will join them as some of the only music therapy dogs in the nation.
“Typically, therapy dogs go to hospitals or libraries, nursing homes — things like that,” Quiles said. “We use them specifically at our school to help kids with performance anxiety.”
They’re great, she said, for students who have had a bad day and need to de-stress before their lesson.
Sometimes, Quiles said, “you just need to laugh with the dog or take puppy time.”
The dogs, usually Gertie, may even show up at recitals to comfort those who need them.
Students are welcome to have her on stage with them during performances. Abrams attends lessons daily.
“He just kind of chills with them, sleeps under the piano bench,” Quiles said. “They’re trained around every different instrument — bagpipes — they’re trained around everything.”
The dogs provide, above all, an non-judgmental audience.
Quiles recalls a Christmas concert when she little girl, in tears from stage fright, refused to leave her mother’s car until she petted one of the dogs. The girl calmed down and went on to do her recital — with a dog to accompany her on stage.
This is, she said, cutting edge in the world of therapy dogs.
“There’s a school in Nebraska that’s training a dog and there’s also a couple schools in California that are working with training their dogs to be used in these (music) schools,” Quiles said.
But aside from that, as far as she knows, she and her husband were the first.
Quiles came up with the idea when, while her little brother was having a bagpipe lesson, Abrams laid down on his back and fell asleep with his feet in the air.
Opie has had a few setbacks in his training, according to Quiles. He still has some puppy in him, she said, and two more animals — including a cat from the Junction City/Geary County Animal Shelter — have moved into his home. That, she said, is a lot of change for a dog and so they’ve cooled off a bit on his training,
So he’s still in training.
In addition to training as a therapy dog, Opie is also learning tricks.
“He can turn on lights and ring doorbells and pick things up — he’s really, really smart,” Quiles said.
She describes him as “a typical pitbull.”
“Super smart and loyal,” Quiles said. “Just a big old couch potato.”
The two-year-old pitbull has had his 15 minutes of fame, in any event.
Popular animal-focused website the Dodo has featured Opie and his adopted siblings in a Purina-sponsored video which focused on soldiers coming home from deployment to reunite with their animals.
Though Quiles’ music school is in Manhattan, she wants to open a school in Junction City, she said. A significant number of her students commute from Junction City and Fort Riley for lessons.
“We’d love to make it easier and grow,” she said. “We’re a pretty big school. We have almost 200 students,” Quiles said. “It’s always a plus — you know, you always think, ‘what’s next? How do we expand? How do we get bigger?’ And Junction City just seems like the smart route to go.”
However, Junction City has a breed ban in place forbidding pitbulls within the city limits and Quiles won’t consider opening a branch of her school here unless she can bring dogs such as Opie with her.
“With the therapy dogs being so much of our business model and our views the breed ban, that’s just not going to happen,” she said.