CANTON – When Dr. Richie Rich makes his rounds in Cleveland Clinic Mercy Hospitalhe gives those he meets the perfect remedy: a reason to smile.
The labradoodle is part of the hospital Benevolent dogs volunteer therapy dog program.
Once a week, Richie and her owner, Randall Rich, greet patients, hospital staff and visitors who are lucky enough to cross their path.
“His job is just to do what he does: make people smile, reduce their anxiety,” Rich said, adding that he and Richie have been with Caring Canines for seven years since the labradoodle was 2 years old.
The Caring Canines program is operational again at the hospital, returning in August after being suspended at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. But some canine teams have not returned and the hospital is looking for volunteers who want participate because the program brings joy to patients.
More news about the Cleveland Clinic:Cleveland Clinic Mercy embarks on development of $10.3 million cancer center
“We had nearly 200 canine teams across the company before the pandemic,” said Stephanie Williams, volunteer services manager at Cleveland Clinic Mercy Hospital. “We have less than 100 now.”
Cleveland Clinic started the Caring Canines program in 2004. Prior to integrating with Cleveland Clinic, Mercy Medical Center had a Mercy Pet Patrol program that began in 1994.
Williams said the program accommodates a variety of breeds.
“We are looking for dogs that are friendly, welcoming and not embarrassed by physical contact,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for them to relieve people of stress.”
They are not service dogs
Caring Canines are not service dogs, however, applicants must be trained, tested and certified as therapy dogs by an outside agency.
Rich said he and his wife, Jane, originally bought Richie for their son, Chad, who has an intellectual disability.
Labradoodles are hypoallergenic and non-dumb dogs.
“I knew I wanted him to be a therapy dog,” Rich said.
Rich said that after retiring from Bristol Myers Squibb in 2013 he found he could only take a limited amount of rides; only so much grass that needed to be mowed.
“My friends said, ‘You have to have a hobby,'” he laughed. “It turned out to be my hobby.”
Rich noted that his father, Orlando, owned a canine obedience school, Canton All Breeds, in the 1950s.
After discovering Caring Canines, Rich enrolled Richie in a therapy certification program. Screening potential therapy dogs includes measuring their reactions to noise, people, and the types of equipment and activities found in a hospital.
“Anything that can happen in a hospital,” Rich said.
He limits Richie’s visits to about 90 minutes a week.
“He’s getting old, I don’t want to wear him down,” he said.
An empathetic and caring dog
Rich noted that Richie is an empathetic and intuitive dog.
“He can choose the person in the room who needs the most attention and attention,” he said.
As the team enters a waiting room, patients and nurses smile at the sight.
Patient Josh Strouble even got down on one knee to greet Richie.
“I have a dog too,” he said.
Rich was asked how he benefits from participating in Caring Canines.
“Just to see people going through a stressful time, to see them smile,” he said.
For more information about the Caring Canines program, visit www.clevelandclinic.org/volunteer.
Contact Charita at 330-580-8313 or email@example.com.
On Twitter: @cgoshayREP