Dog-tor Rusty is in: Golden retriever helps patients through sickness, owner through loss

Dog-tor Rusty is in: Golden retriever helps patients through sickness, owner through loss

When Donna Donovan enters WakeMed Hospital in Cary, she’s already got a doctor by her side.
When Rusty, a two-year old golden retriever, comes with her to greet patients and staff, he plays the part. The pup comes dressed in a custom-fit lab coat and uses a stethoscope to bring some much-needed comic relief and comfort.

Rusty and Donna visit WakeMed, UNC Hospital and a hospice center throughout the week, and Rusty spends several hours boosting the morale of patients and staff.
However, the visits are therapeutic for Donovan, too. She lost her husband and her former dog within about six months. Having recently retired from her career as a paralegal, she was looking for something more purposeful with a bent toward helping the community.

“At that point I knew I wanted to do something that was more fulfilling for me and give back to the community,” said Donovan who lives in Fuquay-Varina.
Rusty was trained through Jackie’s Basics and Beyond in Cary along with the Dogs With a Purpose therapy dog certification group.

“It was just as the pandemic was in full bloom and we thought I would get a golden [retriever]. We’ve been doing it now for over a year and the rewards are just immense. What I see that he brings to patients and staff is just incredible,” Donovan said.

Patients get a card to show they’ve been loved by Rusty, who had his coat tailor-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, their day and attitude are completely refreshed.

“I’ve had nurses say ‘my God, she hasn’t said that much since she’s been here,” Donovan said. “It warms my heart knowing I’ve touched somebody and I really haven’t done anything but share my dog with them.”

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