Man's Best Friend is Patients' Best Friend at NewYork-Presbyterian/Hudson Valley Hospital

Ruby the Therapy Dog gives patients special attention at HVHC

Mar 8, 2011

Cortlandt Manor, NY

Sometimes a cold nose and warm heart is the best medicine. That’s what Suzan Fischer has found in her travels with Ruby, a five-year-old boxer who visits with patients each week at NewYork-Presbyterian/Hudson Valley Hospital.

Elderly woman in a hospital bed with a dog

Ruby and Fischer have been making the rounds at the Hospital for more than a year, visiting patients who need a little TLC. Fischer says that patients often miss their own pets, and visiting with Ruby helps them to cope with their illness and return some normalcy to their lives.

"When you are in the hospital, you lose control of your life," says Ruby’s handler, Fischer. "This gives patients back some control, and reminds them of home."

Brenda Brady, an HVHC volunteer who accompanies Ruby and Fischer on their rounds, says that Ruby is one of several therapy dogs who visit with patients at the Hospital. She said she has seen the benefits of pet therapy first hand.

"Everyone loves Tuesdays when Ruby visits," says Brady. "It makes such a difference to patients. Some days Ruby is the best pain medicine we have."

Patient Mary Rappa of Mohegan Lake was surprised to see Ruby, but quickly warmed to the dog. "She’s really so sweet and gentle," said Rappa.

Patient Ray Adamick of Peekskill said he enjoyed it when Ruby jumped up on his bed and nuzzled his arm. "She’s wonderful," he said.

Ruby also managed to charm a stroke patient  who spoke his first words since the stroke during the dog’s. He said, "I love dogs."

The use of therapeutic pets in hospital and health care settings is growing more common, with many health care professionals recognizing the effectiveness of pets in improving a patient’s outlook and recovery.

Fischer said that Ruby is registered with Therapy Dogs International, which requires all dogs and their handlers to go through rigorous training. Registered dogs must pass a battery of tests to gauge their ability to remain calm and obey in the face of crowds, strangers, medical equipment, alarm bells and more.

Ruby and Fischer both have personal reasons for doing what they do. Ruby is a rescue dog and was adopted from the Putnam Humane Society by Fischer when Ruby was 11-months old. Ruby came from a puppy mill and as a result of poor breeding she had to undergo major abdominal surgery.

Fischer decided to team up with Ruby and go through the training after she had her own stay in the hospital and realized just how much she missed her dog.

"I ended up in the Hospital for a week," she said. “It made me very depressed that I couldn’t see my dog. It occurred to me afterwards, that other people might miss their pets too."