Story of a… Therapy Dog
Tori, a 9-year-old St. Bernard/Golden Retriever mix, gives comfort and joy to Orlando Health patients.
Handler/volunteer Jacqueline Randolph rescued Tori from a local animal shelter five years ago. “I just knew she had the temperament to do pet therapy. She has the adaptability and personality. Like today, she goes running down the stairs and starts prancing around like crazy like she’s saying, ‘I’m going! I’m going!’ And as soon as I put her [pink-and-black therapy dog] vest on and we get in the car, it’s like ‘OK, it’s time to work,’ and she calms down.”
Before joining the PetSmart Paws for Hope at Orlando Health pet therapy program, Tori and Randolph worked with a certified pet trainer on obedience skills. Next, they trained with Paws for Hope to see if Tori could adapt to hospital distractions like crowded elevators, loud vacuum cleaners and that antiseptic scent reminiscent of the vet’s office. Tori and Randolph are one of 50 canine/therapist teams that make as many as 45,000 patient visits a year at six Orlando Health hospitals and various clinics.
“I think she does know the difference between a person going for an appointment and a person going for a chemo treatment.” When she visits a cancer patient, “she’ll go up and just kind of nuzzle them, but if she sees someone walking the hallway, then she’s more exuberant.”
“I’ve had people who so desperately need to tell their story. That’s what I love about Tori. She does her job and then she kind of turns it over to me, like ‘OK, Mom, I’m gonna hang out on the floor and you need to listen to this person.’ It’s what I love about her demeanor and intuition.”
At 75 pounds, Tori’s size can be intimidating to children, “but when they see how gentle she is, they want to come over and pet and play with her.” When she’s not visiting patients or relatives of patients, she’s attending special events with other therapy dogs or stopping by to visit doctors and nurses.
“We call her the prima donna.” Grooming Tori’s thick, silky black-and-auburn coat is part of the routine before each pet therapy visit. “You have to have her teeth brushed, and she has to have a bath within 24 hours of a visit, which means ears cleaned, nails clipped. And, because of her coat, I go to a groomer.”
Dressing up is part of the job during holidays and events. “I buy spaghetti strap outfits for her because they don’t make dog clothes big enough. For Halloween, I did an orange and black cheerleading outfit for her. It was ‘ruff-ruff-rah!’”
Considering how hard she works, does Tori know she’s a dog? “Nah, I think she pretty much knows she’s a human.”
To learn more about the pet therapy program at Orlando Health, go to orlandohealth.com and search Paws for Hope.