Cuddles Are the Best Medicine

Rockledge Regional Medical Center and New England Sinai Hospital have both provide traditional therapy dog programs.

Bee Bee, a 13 year old red golden retriever and nationally certified pet therapy dog, has worked with Rockledge Regional Medical Center since 2014 — in fact, she even has her own hospital ID badge and dressed up in scrubs for Halloween. Her handler, Rochelle, credits Bee Bee’s success as a therapy dog to her innate nature as an animal that cares about others.

“She is a very empathetic dog,” Rochelle said. “She has a big heart like no dog I have ever had before.”

While most therapy dog programs, like the one at Rockledge, involve third party non-profits, New England Sinai Hospital — a long-term acute care facility — has a trained therapy dog in the family. Renia Noel, MS, BSN, RN-BC, Chief Nursing Officer and Vice President of Patient Care Services, has an eight-year-old Labrador Retriever/Golden Retriever mix named Midge, who serves as a therapy dog for her son Luke, who lives with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

According to Renia, Midge has such a strong work ethic that she wants to keep working even when Luke is at school. So, she brings Midge with her to work some days to visit with patients and staff. In the ten weeks that Renia has been with New England Sinai Hospital, Midge has visited a handful of times — and Renia hopes she becomes a regular.

“Now, when I see staff and patients in the hallways or the cafeteria, everyone asks ‘where’s Midge?,’” Renai said. “I’m hoping she becomes a staple of the New England Sinai Hospital community.”

Midge is trained to elevate herself to patients’ eye level — by propping herself up on a wheelchair’s legs or the side of a bed. But, Renia said, she can also sense when someone is scared of dogs and immediately lays down on the floor. Renia believes Midge can set an example for the use of therapy dogs overall.

“I think having pet therapy is forward thinking,” Renia said. “We have physical therapy and occupational therapy. Why can’t we have standard pet therapy? Midge is a perfect example of how we can add pet therapy into our interdisciplinary process of patient care.”

Plus, Midge has helped Renia bond with staff in her first few months at New England Sinai.

“From a leadership perspective, when I have Midge with me, it makes me look more approachable,” she said. “It definitely opens up more conversations with staff and patients — which is a big plus.”