Gunner is giving back while he still can. 

The black Labrador retriever had a busy morning Tuesday, when he met with students at Sherwood Heights Elementary School to help spread the importance of volunteering.

After that, Gunner headed to the oncology department at Central Maine Medical Center to help bring smiles to cancer patients. 

Gunner, a therapy dog owned by Luke Robinson of Auburn, started visiting with patients at CMMC around the holidays six years ago.

When 11-year-old Gunner was diagnosed with stage 1 kidney failure, Robinson was told his dog would have a shortened life. 

Gunner now visits the hospital every Tuesday rather than just at the holidays.

“I want to share him as much as I can while we still can,” Robinson said.

Gunner visits with nurses and others on the staff on his way to the second floor oncology department, where he spends time with cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

“Gunner is always welcome,” Cynthia Riley of Buckfield said during her second day of treatment in two days. She will be back on Wednesday for her third. 

“Who knew that this was going to be a happy chemo day,” Riley said with Gunner sprawled across her lap. 

Riley, who has never smoked, was diagnosed Aug. 11 with lung cancer. The cancer has since spread to her brain. 

“I’m trying to beat it,” she said.

Terry Dennis of Turner has two dogs. Gizmo is 8 years old and Max is 18. 

So Gunner did not have to work too hard to get Dennis to smile, even if she was undergoing seven hours of chemotherapy.

“I love dogs,” said Dennis, who learned four months ago she has ovarian cancer.

“Gunner knows his role very well,” Robinson said.

He loves to run and play when outside, but is gentle and calm once his volunteer badge is clipped to his dog collar. 

“Our job is to do our job and stay out of the way of the day-to-day operations of the hospital,” Robinson said. 

He said he and Gunner’s volunteer efforts work both ways.

“I am naturally kind of introverted,” Robinson said. Visiting people with his certified therapy dog provides a “bridge to cross that helps me reach out to others.” 

The feeling was mutual Tuesday.  

“It’s unbelievable how much help you gave us today,” Ed Riley told Robinson as Gunner stretched across Riley’s wife’s chest and closed his eyes.

Cynthia Riley of Buckfield spends time with Gunner, a therapy dog owned by Luke Robinson, left, while receiving a chemotherapy treatment at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Tuesday. Riley has stage IV lung cancer. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Gunner, a therapy dog, rests on the lap of Terry Dennis of Turner while Dennis receives chemotherapy treatment at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Tuesday. Dennis has stage IV ovarian cancer. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Cynthia Riley of Buckfield spends time with Gunner, a therapy dog owned by Luke Robinson, left, while receiving a chemotherapy treatment at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Tuesday. Riley has stage IV lung cancer. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Luke Robinson of Auburn picks up his dog, Gunner, from the lap of Terry Dennis of Turner while Dennis receives a chemotherapy treatment at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Tuesday. Robinson and his certified therapy dog visit patients at CMMC one day a week. Dennis has stage IV ovarian cancer. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Gunner, a certified therapy dog, wears a volunteer badge when he visits patients at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Gunner, a certified therapy dog, wears his own volunteer badge when he visits patients at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

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