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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.


posted September 22nd, 2014 by
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by Lauren Cavagnolo

A roomful of jovial faces and a strong sense of camaraderie among both people and dogs fill the classroom at K9 Manners & More on a Saturday afternoon.

Adults with special needs are assertively leading dogs around the room, commanding them to sit and generously rewarding them with both treats and smiles.

Though it has only been about a year and a  half since Co-directors Mindy Stevenson and Mary Green started the Champs Foundation (in November of 2012), it has already made quite an impact on so many lives.

The program for teens and adults with intellectual disabilities pairs each with a volunteer coach and trained dog, so the participants can learn how to train dogs themselves. Not only do the participants learn new skills associated with dog training, but the classes help with life skills and boost confidence, potentially helping its participants find jobs.

Stevenson’s two sons with special needs, Billy and Danny, were her inspiration for the first-of-its-kind program. After running a therapeutic horseback riding center for 18 years, Stevenson started working with dogs.

At one point, Stevenson had as many as 75 students riding horses weekly, but her youngest son Danny’s life-threatening seizures were not compatible with the program. Stevenson found that working with dogs allowed her to have constant supervision of her son since he could work alongside her.

“Dogs are so much easier to work with, and so many more children could benefit,” Stevenson says. “There’s not a lot of access to the therapeutic programs with horses and not all the kids like the big horses. It was just such an easy transition, why in the world had nobody thought of it before?

“Dogs have proven to be a great comfort and support to people everywhere and in all situations, so the transition to dogs was an easy one to pursue.”

Stevenson had been to several classes at K9 Manners & More through the years. When she approached Owners Mary Green and Kim Sykes about the possibility of beginning the Champs program, they were on board and ready to develop the program.

Green serves as the head instructor for the program and is “absolutely perfect for the job,” Stevenson says. “What a blessing that has been, and so here we are today with a bright future for Champs!”

No barriers

One of the biggest surprises to everyone involved in the program has been how quickly the participants have improved their communication skills.

“I just can’t stress enough how the communication skills have come along,” Green says. “Some of these kids were super, super quiet. The dogs couldn’t even hear when they would give a command or call the dog to come to them. My goodness, now they are all very vocal and very bold.”

However, Green says that strong verbal skills are not necessary to participate in the program because hand signals and other forms of communication are used with the dogs.

“In this environment with support and positive reinforcement and teamwork, they don’t have a disability; this is just as training would be with anybody else,” Green says. “That to me is the greatest joy of it; there are no barriers to being able to handle a dog to participate.”

Linda Evans says she is always looking for activities for her 24-year-old son Nick, a Champs Foundation participant. Evans was initially concerned about Nick’s ability to take part in the class because of his limited verbal skills.

“Once Nick learned the signs and increased his confidence level, he began to speak up, including the verbal command with the sign. When the sessions end, Nick impatiently waits for the next session to begin,” Evans says.

“He has gotten to know the dogs and their owners. These are wonderful, generous people. They donate part of their Saturday to provide this experience for my son and others with special needs.”

Fran Bohan’s 23-year-old son Evan also attends Champs classes, though at first he was hesitant to try it.

“After finding out a couple of friends of his were going to be there as well, he decided to give it a try. From day one, he has loved it,” Bohan says.

Like Nick, Bohan says Evan has gained confidence since joining the Champs Foundation.

“He’s become comfortable with giving the commands and being assertive with the dogs,” Bohan

says. “For a while, he tended to work with one dog in particular, but has since begun changing it up.

“I can’t say enough about the Champs program. You can see it on the faces of these class members every week—the smiles and love for those dogs. The dedication of those running the class and the dog owners is amazing, and we are very appreciative.”

The Champs give more to me

Champs volunteer Cathi Morris, who has previously worked with Special Olympics Oklahoma, began training her dog at K9 Manners & More a few years ago and says the program has allowed her to put her passions to good use through teaching and continuing work with her dog.

“When Champs classes finally began I’m not sure any of us really knew what to expect,” Morris says. “But the thought of being a part of something new and unique was exciting.” 

Fellow volunteer Mary Buck recalls being asked to participate along with her dog Nike and says she all but screamed with excitement. She has been a part of the program since the beginning.

“I never want to miss my Champs time, ever,” Buck says. “I leave our training sessions and head home with a smile on my face and the best feeling in the world. I have seen so many of these kids’ confidence increase and verbal skills increase as well.”

After hearing amazing things about the program, Laurie Lambert began to volunteer her time as a coach last fall.

“I love watching the faces of the Champs as they work the dogs and feel proud of their accomplishments,” Lambert says. “This hour-long session is one of the highlights of my week. The Champs give more to me than I give to them.”

Just the beginning

Up until now, the program has been invitation only but it was opened to the public at the end of February. A session costs $50 and runs for six weeks with classes held weekly.

Stevenson and Green are also working on developing a detailed curriculum for the program with the intent of expanding to other facilities.

“The kids have exceeded any initial expectations that   we had, and it keeps us on our toes thinking of new and greater things for them to accomplish,” Green says.

The pair hopes to raise funds to be able to offer scholar-ships to the program.

“This is just the beginning,” Stevenson adds. “It’s going to be amazing.”


For more information or to make a donation, visit

Interested in enrolling or volunteering? Email Champs at [email protected] or

Mindy Stevenson at [email protected]