Mavis Pearl

posted October 14th, 2014 by
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Mavis Pearl is a 3-year-old, tutu-wearing, bunny-loving Bulldog.

And she probably has a busier schedule than you.

Mavis Pearl

By Lauren Cavagnolo


Photos by Steve Bull, Sirius Photography


Mavis, a registered therapy dog, frequents schools, hospitals, nursing homes and hospice centers throughout the Tulsa area. She is a part of Therapy Dogs, Inc., and Caring Canines. She participates in the READ program and attends Champs classes for special needs teens and adults at K9 Manners & More. She also makes house calls on request.


It’s hard not to smile when you see Mavis, who is known for her crazy outfits, and that’s exactly the point. Her owner Lisa Bain has made it her mission to bring smiles to the faces of people in need of cheer through her nonprofit, Joy In The Cause.

“The thing that I love about Joy In The Cause is that its focus is on bringing support, joy and laughter to those with life-altering illness. It’s not just about cancer,” Bain said. “We have helped heart babies, burn patients, trauma injuries, all of the kids in all of the hospitals. It’s not just the chemo floor. It was our desire to be able to find the people who fall through the cracks.”

The inspiration for Joy In The Cause came to Bain and her mother Juanita Jernigan about five years ago. In the same week Bain was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases, her mother was also diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer.

The news could have easily brought the mother-daughter pair down, but instead they took an opposite approach.

“We said, ‘We are going to make this journey about joy, about giving and about getting through it like life is a party,’” Bain said. “And we would go to her chemo visits and wear party hats. I would wear chicken suits on the days that she would be getting bad news. The doctor had a party hat with a big pink plume, and he would wear that every time.”

Bain also attended chemo treatments with her mother every week.

“When she slept, I would just go from chair to chair to chair and just get to know what the people’s needs were,” she said. “And we really saw how big the needs were and how many people were falling through the cracks. It was always her prayer to someday start a nonprofit group where we could help these people.”

Jernigan’s dream came to fruition before she passed away in December. True to her spirit, her funeral was a party. Those in attendance wore party hats and bright colors.

“She left this legacy to continue,” Bain said. “She’s with me every day. Every day we are seeing the most amazing things happen through Joy In The Cause.”

Called to something great

Mavis’ involvement with Joy In The Cause almost didn’t happen.

After the early death of the family’s Bulldog, Bain was hesitant to get another one, but her son convinced her to recon-sider. They selected a puppy from a facility in Yukon and were taking care of the paperwork when the breeder asked Bain to look at a 6-month-old dog.

“She said, ‘I just know this dog is called to something great. It’s not supposed to be my dog; it’s supposed to be yours,’” Bain recalled.

“And I said, ‘No, I don’t want a 6-month-old dog; I want a puppy,’” Bain said, laughing.

But in the end, Bain agreed to take a look at the little dog. “So we went in the kitchen; she opened up the crate and out came Mavis. She just won my heart from the beginning.”

In September 2013, Joy In The Cause became an official nonprofit, and Mavis has been working hard ever since.

In just over six months, the group has handed out more than 3,800 mini Mavis Pearls, the calling card of Joy In The Cause, and has collected just as many tales of how Mavis has made an impact.

“It is so fun to watch her. When we go to cubicle to cubicle to cubicle in the cancer unit, she goes and she sits, and you can see her processing it all, she knows what the person is wanting,”  Bain said.

On one particular visit, Mavis stopped at a woman’s cubicle and just sat there. Bain says the woman inside started to cry as she said, “She knows I’m afraid of dogs.” Bain asked her if she wanted to pet her, and she said she did. Mavis slowly walked up and gave the woman her paw.

“The lady just held on to her paw for like 15 minutes. Mavis just knew,” Bain said. “It’s like she just knows what each person is going to need, and it’s the same way at Little Lighthouse. Stuff I never trained her to do—it was just there.”

Julie Lipe, director of educational services at the Little Lighthouse, says the children love Mavis. The school serves children with special needs, providing both educational and therapeutic services.

“She is amazingly gentle and sensitive to the needs of our students. She is playful with the children who want to be playful, and she is calm with the children who are more fragile,” Lipe said. “Not only do the children have a lot of fun with Mavis Pearl and Joy In The Cause, but the children are able to work on their therapeutic goals through their interactions with Mavis.”

Lipe has many stories about Mavis Pearl’s impact on the kids, but one in particular stands out. A student who had always responded fearfully to visits from other therapy pets and never wanted to be within reach of dogs sat on Bain’s lap and petted Mavis Pearl during their visit.

“We were thrilled to see the progress this little girl made and the impact Mavis Pearl had on her! I think this little girl knew Mavis Pearl was wearing a tutu and what little girl can resist a tutu?” Lipe said. “The Little Lighthouse can’t thank Joy In The Cause enough for the impact they have had on all of us!”

Another facility Mavis frequents is Tulsa Cancer Institute, where Jernigan received her chemo treatments.

Jeri Hylton, director of administrative services, recalls wondering if having Mavis visit would work since they had never had dogs in the facility.

“And the first time I saw that little dog, it was hilarious; it made you laugh,” Hylton said. “I was worried and concerned about how it would go with the patients and, oh my gosh, they all look forward to it.”

Even patients who say they are not interested in visiting with a therapy dog usually change their minds when they actually see Mavis. “I think it makes their day; I think it brightens their day,” she said.

Hylton says she even has patients schedule their appointments around Mavis and Bain’s visits.

As much as the patients love Mavis, Hylton says Bain is an important part of the equation.

“What sells this little dog is her mama,” Hylton said. “She’s fun! I would enjoy a visit with just Lisa.”

In fact, many organizations would like a visit from the duo. Tulsa Cancer Institute’s Bartlesville location has recently been added to their list of stops.

With Mavis’ already packed schedule and increasing popularity, Bain says they are looking into adding other service dogs through a program called Friends of Mavis. Bain says she has a couple of dogs in mind, and because of the visits with children in particular, she is looking for service dogs with laid back temperments.

“We’ve had oncologists say, ‘There’s only one Mavis; you need a lot of dogs,’” Bain said. “It is very strenuous on dogs when you go for three hours nonstop. So we try to pace her. She’s a busy girl. She loves to go and help and do.”

To donate, submit a volunteer application or to find out about upcoming events, visit




Mavis Pearl is named after a cafeteria lady who worked at Lisa’s childhood elementary school. “She was one of my favorite ladies. She would always give me extra bean chowder and cinnamon rolls. She had cancer—she was sick—but she would never miss a day. And she inspired me to give.”


Mavis really does love to wear her tutu. “If she doesn’t have something to do, she meets me at the door with her tutu in her mouth. To get her out of that tutu is like an act of God,” Bain said.


Mavis loves bunny rabbits. “There was a rabbit nest that was [in our yard] last year and she would guard it from our Golden and our Lab. The baby bunnies would frolic and play with her, and she just became their mom,” Bain said.

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