Giving a helping paw

Dogs can be great pets.

They can be even better therapists.

Three-year-old Labrador Retriever Lilly and Lt. Detective Mary Murphy from the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office showed just that to residents and patients at the St. Barnabas Rehabilitation and Continuing Care Center on Tuesday, June 18.

The presentation gave doctors and administrators who are looking to work with a therapy dog, a first hand look at how effective the animal can be for those who have cognitive impairment and other issues.

Assistant Administrator Maxine Greene said she thinks a therapy dog would help doctors and staff find out more about some of their patients.

“We have elderly individuals here, and some of them come into our home from neglect,” she said, “so were looking to start a program here, because studies have shown animals increase socialization and physical activity.”

She said that Lilly has been instrumental in getting abused individuals “to open up about what has happened to them, and the DA’s office has really able to make a lot of arrests because of it, so we’re interested in getting something similar in our nursing home.”

Patients were given the opportunity to interact with Lilly, while Murphy gave a brief presentation.

As a therapy dog in the office of Rockland DA Thomas Zugibe, Lilly works with seniors and children by providing peace and security to victims of abuse and violent crimes, Murphy explained.

“We got Lilly from the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program,” Murphy said. “They breed wonderful dogs for intelligence and temperament, but they put the dog obviously through a lot of training, and at some point during the training they have many dogs that aren’t cut out to be service dogs because the requirements are just enormous.” In Lilly’s case, it wasn’t her temperament or her intelligence, Murphy explained, but “the fact that she was a little timid and not aggressive at all. Obviously a Seeing Eye dog has to make decisions, so they released her.”

Murphy said she contacted the program, looking for a therapy dog, and “The fact that she is not aggressive made her perfect for this.”

Both handler and dog then attended a class to become a certified therapy team.

“She helps by soothing and calming crime victims at the ‘Spirit of Rockland’ Special Victims Center to make them more reliable witnesses,” Murphy explained.

The Rockland County DA’s office opened the center, where Lilly goes every day, in 2011.

The goal of SVC is to provide services and resources to victims in one secure location through inter-agency collaboration.

St. Barnabas resident Christian Cacho said he thought the presentation was beautiful.

“I had a lab three years ago and she passed away,” Cacho said. “I think the center should have a couple therapy dogs, one on each floor. They can help people with physical disabilities, help to relax people, it would help in a lot of different aspects.”

Kirsten Sanchez can be reach via e-mail at ksanchez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3394

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