Burke Rehabilitation Hospital, based in White Plains, NY, has launched Burke TheraDogs, a canine therapy program to support patients and staff members. Burke partnered for the program with The Good Dog Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that trains and provides therapy dogs for healthcare, social service, and educational facilities in the tri-state area and beyond.

Volunteers and their four-legged friends visit Burke two to three times a week. Echo and Nala, two black Labradors, assist patients in their rehabilitative journey while staff members also find respite in the weekly encounters. 

“We are so excited to offer this program to patients and colleagues as we are dealing with challenging situations and living through trying times,” says Burke’s Director of Volunteers Robin Goldberg. “The Patient Experience Department instituted this program to support both our patients and staff. There is nothing better than seeing a friendly and sweet therapy dog lifting up the spirits of a patient or staff member.”

The staff looks forward to seeing Nala and Echo each week and, for some patients, petting a Burke TheraDog brings the comforts of home into the hospital. Studies show that smiling releases molecules called neuropeptides that reduce stress. When a person smiles, the body also releases natural painkillers like endorphins and serotonin to reduce pain and depression.

Since its inception in 1998, The Good Dog Foundation has had a singular mission. Carly Goteiner, The Good Dog Foundation Director of Community Engagement, explains, “Using animal assisted Intervention, we enhance human healing and learning. The Good Dog Foundation works with exceptional dogs and handlers to achieve this goal. The owners and their dogs are highly trained and certified to work as a team and enrich the lives of each person they meet during each encounter.”

Burke currently teams up with two volunteers and their dogs, Leslye Davidson and Leslie Geist, who express satisfaction volunteering at the hospital.

“Even through masks, I can see the smiles,” says Davidson. “Faces light up when people see Nala and many open up their phones to show me the pets at home that they miss. Bringing joy to others, especially when they are working so hard to recover, brings joy to my life in return.”

Geist concurs that every visit brings comfort and joy to the patients and staff. On one occasion, Echo was introduced to a woman with a brain injury. While petting and watching him perform tricks, the patient’s word retrieval became more fluent. The patient’s two aides noted that the interaction with Echo had her speaking more words than usual.

“I feel energized, joyful, and blessed to be at Burke Rehabilitation participating in canine therapy,” says Geist. She finds they are forming valuable relationships with Burke employees and patients and everyone can benefit from canine therapy in the hospital.

Burke TheraDogs looks to expand in the future with additional dogs and owners.

Burke Rehabilitation is a not-for-profit healthcare organization devoted solely to acute physical rehabilitation. Its main campus is located in White Plains, NY. Founded in 1915 through an endowment from philanthropist John Masterson Burke, it has been a member of the Montefiore Health System since 2016. Burke operates the only hospital in Westchester County dedicated solely to adult and adolescent rehabilitation medicine. Burke also offers therapeutic care in locations throughout Westchester County, the Hudson Valley, and the Bronx for those who have experienced injuries, surgery, or chronic conditions, from the simple to the very complex. 

Photo: Burke Rehabilitation Hospital