Four-legged healers at the hospital |

Four-legged healers at the hospital

Edward StonerVail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyVail Valley Medical Center patient Karen MacKellar pets Simone DeVine's golden retriever, Ruca, Wednesday. DeVine and Ruca visit patients as part of the Pet Partners Program.

VAIL – Ruca jumped up onto Vic Gaglione’s hospital bed. Vic’s eye – the one that wasn’t swollen shut – brightened as he petted the golden retriever.”Dogs just have that natural love,” he said.He missed his own dog, he said, as he played with Ruca.It was Gaglione’s third day in the hospital. A few weeks ago, the snowboarder had fallen at the Breckenridge terrain park – on the 85 foot jump, he said.

“I caught my toe edge, I guess,” he said.He was diagnosed with an infection in his orbit, a cavity in his skull.Ruca’s owner, Simone DeVine, got ready to take Ruca to the next patient.”You can leave her all day,” Gaglione said. “I’m OK with that.”DeVine volunteers for the Pet Partners Program, which brings dogs to the Vail hospital to visit with patients. As Ruca made her way through the hallway, dozens of nurses and paramedics stopped to pet her.

The dogs help cut down the stress that comes with working in a hospital, said Carol Turrin, a registered nurse.”They are our therapy as well,” Turrin said.DeVine then led Ruca into Karen MacKellar’s room. MacKellar’s hand immediately reached out to Ruca to pet her, and MacKellar started talking about her own dog.”It’s such a drag hanging out in the hospital,” said MacKellar. “I do it way too much. I miss my dog at home.”As Ruca and DeVine were getting ready to leave, DeVine asked if MacKellar wanted some hand sanitizer.”No,” MacKellar said. “I want to sniff my hands all I can.”There are 17 dog-owner pairs in the program, which started in Vail in 2005. The dogs range from a tiny Chihuahua to a big Leonberger. Volunteers have to get 12 hours of training, and dogs have to pass a test.The dogs must be washed within 24 hours before their visit. Both patients and their doctors have to approve the visits. The pets are in the hospital three days a week. The local program is looking for more volunteers, and is looking to expand to other medical buildings in the valley, said Blondie Vucich, who helped start the program in Vail.The dogs help patients lower stress, relieve anxiety, lower blood pressure and speed up healing, Vucich said.”You can see the difference in their demeanor,” she said.Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

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