Goliath, therapy dog and island unofficial mayor, dies

“Everybody ran to him. He never had a person or a dog that he could never get along with.”

Goliath, a 170-pound certified therapy dog and Vashon’s unofficial mayor of 2018 that brought comfort and love to children, seniors and islanders of all ages and creeds, died on Feb. 13. He was seven years old.

Owner David Fuller said the cause of Goliath’s death was cancer, first discovered in his right leg last year.

Veterinarians initially thought the dog only had weeks left to live, according to Fuller, but Goliath endured for nine months, continuing with his busy schedule. Until his final days, Goliath made regular visits to the residents of Vashon Community Care on Mondays and Thursdays and to Chautauqua Elementary School each Tuesday, when struggling, young students in the Paws to Read program read aloud to him in a non-judgmental environment to improve their literacy skills.

“The dog can’t correct you and tell you you’ve messed up,” said Fuller.

Goliath loved to swim and ride in the car; on official business as mayor, he traveled in Fuller’s SUV with a seal on the door that read “Vashon Island Unofficial Mayor.” He won a contested race in a crowded field in 2018, running on behalf of VCC on a platform of “unconditional love,” and ran again as the incumbent the following year, conceding to current mayor, islander Lynann Politte as Eirene, the Goddess of Peace.

In addition to his two meals a day, his favorite snacks were ice cream and popcorn. But Goliath especially loved the company of those who stopped to pet him.

“Everybody ran to him. He never had a person or a dog that he could never get along with,” said Fuller.

Anne Atwell, director of development and community relations at VCC, said the news of Goliath’s death shocked the residents and staff, noting that the dog remains a vital part of the identity of Vashon Community Care. She said his service went a long way for many residents, including those experiencing cognitive impairment or anxiety.

“When a person touches a dog, it’s almost like the dog receives that anxiety and that fear and you can just see somebody calm down,” Atwell said. “Goliath was so calm with people, he would just stand there and let people touch him.”

She added that he was also beloved by children who would wrap their arms around him en masse when he came around.

Holly Boyajian, a first-grade teacher at the elementary school, is the teacher coordinator for the school’s Paws to Read program, assisting several teams of handlers and dogs who volunteer at the school for an hour each week to help students develop grade-level reading skills.

Boyajian said Goliath’s presence in the classroom for the last several years, working with up to four students at a time, has won him the admiration of all of her students.

“When Goliath walks in the class, eyes light up and they’re so excited to be able to work with him,” she said. “It’s something kids love. They see Goliath coming and it’s just this immediate magnet.”

Boyajian thanked current volunteers for their time and the Vashon Partners in Education for donating funds so she could purchase dog and animal-themed books for students and a dog bed to help facilitate the program. She added that island pet owners should consider if their own dogs — patient, calm and open to lots of petting — may make good therapy dogs and candidates for the program, following in Goliath’s big paw prints.

For more information about the Chautauqua Elementary School Paws to Read program, contact Holly Boyajian at hboyajian@vashonsd.org.