CARY, North Carolina “When Donna Donovan walks into WakeMed Hospital in Cary, she already has a doctor by her side.
When Rusty, a two-year-old golden retriever, comes with her to greet patients and staff, he plays the role. The pup is dressed in a tailored lab coat and uses a stethoscope to provide much-needed comic relief and comfort.
Rusty and Donna visit WakeMed, the UNC hospital, and a hospice throughout the week, and Rusty spends several hours cheering up patients and staff.
However, the visits are also therapeutic for Donovan. She lost her husband and her former dog in about six months. Having recently retired from her paralegal career, she was looking for something more determined with a penchant for helping the community.
“At that point I knew I wanted to do something more fulfilling for myself and give back to the community,” said Donovan, who lives in Fuquay-Varina.
Rusty was trained by Jackie’s Basics and Beyond in Cary with the therapy dog certification group Dogs With a Purpose.
“It was just when the pandemic was in full bloom and we thought I would get a gold medal. [retriever]. We’ve been doing it now for over a year and the rewards are just immense. What I see he brings to patients and staff is just amazing,” Donovan said.
Patients receive a card to show they were loved by Rusty, who had his coat custom-made just for him. At WakeMed, Rusty even has his own hospital ID card.
Donovan said some patients and staff are so uplifted by Rusty that their day and attitude are completely refreshed.
“I’ve had nurses say ‘god, she hasn’t said much since she’s been here,'” Donovan said. “It warms my heart to know that I touched someone and really didn’t do anything but share my dog with them.”