NYer Of The Week: Hospital Visitor Lends A Helping Paw
Wally isn't a typical New Yorker of the Week, but he does strive to bring a warm, fuzzy feeling to the people he helps. John Schiumo filed the following report.
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Every Wednesday, patients recovering from traumatic injuries at Mount Sinai Hospital receive visits from a four-legged friend. Wally is a certified therapy dog. He and his owner, Laurie Vogel, are volunteers at Mount Sinai Hospital.
"I think he knows it's a job," says Vogel. "He acts differently when he is here."
Most of the patients Wally visits are recovering from spinal cord and brain injuries. Wally's bedside manner provides a welcome change from the stressful hospital routine.
"Wally is a very soothing, calming experience in their day," Vogel says. "Many people say this is the best part of the day when Wally sits on their lap or gives them a kiss."
Vogel has been volunteering at Mount Sinai for years. She saw Wally's potential to give back when he was just a streetwise pup.
"He was well socialized and, living in New York, he was used to people," she explains. "I thought this could be a fun opportunity for both of us."
After completing a rigorous training program, Wally was ready to meet patients and make a difference. Vogel tells the story of a 16-year-old girl with meningitis who wasn't communicating – until she met Wally.
"She was teaching him to sit and roll over," Vogel recalls. "All of a sudden she was communicating; she was giggling and excited."
Wally tends to have that effect on people. Rehabilitation specialist Jason Schwab explains that interacting with the dog can lift patients' spirits and aid their recovery.
"If people aren't in a good mood – if they're depressed or down because of a certain disability – they are not going to be as effective in their treatments," Schwab says. "After a quick session with Wally we find that their mood is up and they're smiling more. They are happy and much more engaged in their therapy program."
Stroke survivor Roland Benson says Wally has helped his progress.
"A lot of people give up. They think nobody cares," Benson says. "But when you see somebody coming in, it picks you up. You can't be sad; they know you still exist and it's a good feeling."
So for bringing a smile and a wagging tail into patients' lives, Wally the dog and Laurie Vogel are our New Yorkers of the Week.