Meet Rigby, a NewYork-Presbyterian Therapy Dog

As a volunteer with NewYork-Presbyterian's Paws for Patients therapy program, Rigby brings smiles to the patients and staff she visits at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital

For five years, David Fritz and his 6-year-old golden retriever, Rigby, have spent most of their Sunday afternoons at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. As volunteers with the dog therapy program, Paws for Patients, David and Rigby visit with young patients and their families. “Our primary goal is to bring joy,” David says.

When Rigby walks through the front doors, the nurses cheer, offering treats and hugs. Families perk up when she greets each patient at their bedside, tail wagging. Once a patient feels comfortable, Rigby might even offer her paw to shake. “When she meets someone, she always lights up,” David says.

David began his volunteer work 15 years ago with his golden retriever Cassie, who was in service for 10 years. Nadine Butterfield, a child life assistant at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, has been working with David as a volunteer for 11 years and has seen the happiness his beloved pets bring. “Rigby offers a sense of unconditional love, care, and comfort,” Butterfield says.

Established in 2002, NewYork-Presbyterian’s Paws for Patients aims to boost the moods of visiting patients and promote both their physical and mental healing. There are 28 trained therapy dogs and handlers that make visits across NewYork-Presbyterian campuses.

Each therapy dog undergoes an independent evaluation and certification every two years that focuses on their disposition and ability to master commands. And with benefits such as reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and increasing social interaction, dog therapy has been embraced by patients and staff alike. “When patients find out a dog is coming to see them, their whole demeanor changes,” Butterfield says. “It really makes a difference in their stay and gives them something to look forward to.”

When Rigby finishes her rounds, she leaves everyone in better spirits. “Volunteering is a truly exceptional experience,” David says. “It’s been a privilege for me to witness firsthand – from the other end of the leash – turning a child’s frown to a smile, and evoking a parent’s tearful ‘thank you.’ I could not be prouder of Cassie for all that she did, of Rigby for all that she does, and of all the love they give.”

To learn more about the benefits of dog therapy, or how you can volunteer, click here.

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