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Therapy Dogs 607

April 6, 2020

Brenda Sylvester, of Endicott, has a volunteer partner, Rhoda, who can’t drive, talk or shake hands when the duo visits patients and staff at Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton.

But Rhoda can spread love, joy and support to patients with a wag of her tail.

Rhoda is a therapy dog, and one of nine dog and human teams who are members of Therapy Dogs 607. Sylvester is the founder and head of the group of certified therapy dogs and their human handlers who visit Lourdes Hospital, local libraries and Binghamton University.

“It makes me happy to see the patients perk up a bit and enjoy them,” she said of the dogs. “The best part of my day is to watch how much of a difference they make.”

A lifelong dog lover whose day job is being a physician assistant at Lourdes, Sylvester volunteers at the same place where she works. She founded Therapy Dogs 607 a dozen years ago. The dogs have been visiting Lourdes Hospital once a week for nearly five years.

“Sometimes people have been in the hospital for a long time. They get very depressed or they miss their animals,” Sylvester said.

Then a furry friend enters their room. They may jump up on the patient’s bed to snuggle or sits close enough for petting — depending on the dog’s size and the patient’s comfort levels.

“It makes a huge difference for the patients,” Sylvester said. “It brightens their day. It makes them smile.”

Patients aren’t the only ones who look forward to the dogs’ visit every week. Staff members enjoy it, too, Sylvester said.

“The staff loves it just as much as the patients do,” she said. “Everybody wants to work Thursday nights now.”

When the dogs aren’t visiting the hospital, they are visiting local libraries to help children learn how to read. They listen patiently as children read to them, often snuggling against them. They don’t care if the child reads the same book aloud 20 times.

They also visit the Binghamton University campus to welcome new freshmen during the first week of the new semester. Many freshmen are away from home for the first time, and may be missing their family and their own dogs back home. They enjoy seeing a furry friend offer them support, Sylvester said.

When the semester is almost over with, the dogs return to campus, Sylvester said. Students can take a break from studying to pet a dog.

“We’re very busy during finals week,” she said.

Rhoda and the rest of the canine team are regular dogs when they’re not working, Sylvester said. They all enjoy taking walks, playing and eating like every dog does. But once the orange vest goes on, the dogs get down to work.

“They have a job to do,” Sylvester said. “For them, getting love from the patients and people is their reward.”

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