Every Wednesday and Friday, two dogs visit Seneca View, a long-term care facility in Elmira, N.Y. The two Leonbergers, Ripley and Auggie, wander down the hospital hallway with their owner Elizabeth Hoffmeier and visit the patients.
The dogs are gentle giants. Auggie weighs approximately 160 pounds and Ripley, a 2-year-old, has three more years to grow.
Hoffmeier says their size makes it perfect for them to interact with the patients in their wheelchairs or beds. Patients are able to pet the animals without any struggle.
Hoffmeier sees firsthand how therapy dogs can make a noticeable difference for patients. She said many of the patients don’t get visitors often, so the dogs are one of the main sources of comfort and company.
“There’s not enough therapy dogs around to go into the institutions where they could make a difference there,” Hoffmeier said. “Therapy dogs can be very valuable in the lives of institutionalized patients.”
Hoffmeier said the dogs not only act as a source of comfort, but also as a motivator. When patients find no motivation to work with the physical or occupational therapists, they still will perform acts such as merely brushing the dog’s fur.
“I remember one man who wouldn’t walk towards a physical therapist until a dog was placed there.” Hoffmeier recalled. “He just shuffled right along to get up to pet the dog.”
Not only do Auggie and Ripley provide great joy, but Ripley also qualified to compete in the 2016 Westminster Dog Show. Leonbergers recently lost their status as a rare breed and was recognized by the American Kennel Club after the breed reached a certain number. Ripley qualified as a Champion, qualified to enter the competition and was two points shy of qualifying as a Grand Champion for the competition.
Ripley and Hoffmeier went to New York City on February 16 for two days to compete in the Westminster Dog Show. Ripley was expected to do well, but there was one small factor that Hoffmeier forgot about until she got there.
“They’re therapy dogs and they’ve been taught not to go to the bathroom on sidewalks.” Hoffmeier said. “New York City is all sidewalks so both of Ripley’s tanks were overflowing.”
The combination of the number of dogs and Ripley’s bowel troubles caused Ripley to move slower and perform poorly.
Even though Ripley did not compete as well as Hoffmeier had hoped, she said that she still plans on competing in next year’s dog show. Until then, Ripley and Auggie will continue to visit Seneca View at Schuyler Hospital and show support for the long-term patients.
“Some of the more profoundly individuals with one of the developmentally delayed appeared to be so withdrawn that they’re not really interacting with the world around them,” Hoffmeier said. “To see a smile actually come across their face or to see them react and be happy is an awesome gift.”