Therapy Dog Returns to Hospital

By Maureen Daly


Huntington Hospital has welcomed back one of its most popular volunteers. Hazel, a 3-year-old Golden Retriever, returned to the Hospital to support front-line workers. It was the first time Hazel and her handler, Gary Zelner, were able to go to the hospital since the coronavirus pandemic began.


Hazel’s presence brings joy to the over worked staffers. Her calm demeanor and warm personality provide much needed comfort to all. For now, Hazel is visiting with staffers. The hospital hopes soon to allow Hazel to visit with patients.


“Caring for our staff is as important as caring for our patients, and we will do everything we can to boost morale and prevent burnout,” said Nick Fitterman, MD, executive director of Huntington Hospital. "Having Hazel and Gary back for staff visits was an obvious choice to bring smiles under the masks."


Hazel has been volunteering in the hospital as a certified therapy dog, since she was a puppy. According to hospital staffers she offers a welcome diversion from the intense stress of patient care during the pandemic. She allows them to “take a breath, relax for a few minutes and relieve the pressure of patient care for even a short time.”


"We were saddened when volunteers had to stop coming to the hospital because of the pandemic, but now that we are allowed back, we view it as a sign that things are slowly returning to normal," said Zelner. "We're excited to see what the future holds and look forward to eventually making visits with patients again."


Huntington Hospital has had a therapy dog program for the last six years. Hazel and Gary plan on visiting the hospital once a week moving forward.