There’s a new intern at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center. Endocrinology isn’t exactly his specialty, but he’s a pro at making people feel better. His name is Pushkin, and he is the Berrie Center’s very own therapy pup—a cuddly, well-behaved, good-natured, 8 pound Russian Bolonka, who has become quite the sensation according to the Berrie Center’s Communications and Outreach Coordinator, Tori Bender.
“Pushkin is a superstar at bringing people together,” she said. “We all take turns watching him and walking him. He also has a great sense for going where he’s wanted or needed. He naturally gravitates to kids, but he’s good with adults too. He brightens everybody’s day.”
Therapy dogs have long been a tool for caregivers, especially in hospital settings or nursing homes where dogs can play an important part in improving a patient’s attitude and well-being, lowering anxiety and blood pressure and providing companionship. But to have a therapy dog in an outpatient clinic is really quite special.
Pushkin’s road to the Berrie Center actually began in Austria at the 2015 Salzburg Medical Seminar where Berrie Center Co-Director Dr. Robin Goland, the J. Merrill Eastman Professor of Clinical Diabetes, was teaching a weeklong program for physicians on diabetes. “I met Yoyo, a Russian Bolonka, and fell in love with the breed,” said Dr. Goland. “I located one of the few breeders in the United States and they were in Connecticut! It seemed meant to be.” Pushkin, named for the Russian poet, playwright and novelist, was born in December of 2015 and became Dr. Goland’s very own in February of 2016.
There were many things about the Russian Bolonka breed that led Dr. Goland to believe Pushkin would be a good therapy dog for the Berrie Center. For one—the size was right; the Bolonka is less than 10 inches long and weighs in at under 10 lbs. The breed, a hybrid of Toy poodle, Shih Tzu, Pekingese and French Bolognese, is also known for having a good temperament.
Next stop for Pushkin was school—or a certified accreditation program that qualifies canines to co-mingle with patients. Pushkin participated in various training programs in New York as a small pup, and he is a graduate of the 6-week long Good Dog Foundation (“Dogs helping humans heal”) Therapy Dog Course, a favorite with the Paw for Patients program at New York Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia University Medical Center.
Each week Pushkin had to achieve certain dog training milestones. For example, he learned how to be handled by, and how to approach an array of different people; he mastered his basic dog commands; he was taught to be at ease in various environments including the bustle of a hospital; He learned to remain calm when hearing loud noises. During one class, a 7-year-old came in to interact with the dogs to see what they would do. Pushkin was at ease and full of joy.
Said Dr. Goland, “He has been the perfect pup—and an even better therapy dog than we could have imagined. He loves it here and the staff and patients love him. Many ask for him on return visits. One of our pediatric patients, age 3, even dressed up as Pushkin for Halloween—that’s how popular he is at the Berrie Center.”