Lefty, a 12-year-old Golden Retriever, does what comes naturally to this breed. He is a certified Therapy Dog and has spent over a decade bringing comfort to others. While some people spend years in classrooms to earn the appropriate credentials to do therapy work or counseling, Lefty was born ready. Recently released from the Cornell University Hospital for Animals after having extensive surgery, Lefty now has one more connection to those he's comforting: He is a stomach cancer survivor himself thanks to the expert diagnostic and surgical skills of the veterinarians at the Cornell University Companion Animal Hospital.
Lefty holds top AKC titles in Agility, Obedience, Rally, and is pointed in Conformation. For his owner, his most important achievements are his Canine Good Citizen certification, his Therapy Dog certification, his awards for being a Disaster Relief Dog, and the more than 200 hours of therapy work at various facilities. His calming ways have helped countless people, including members of the military, Red Cross Workers, firemen, policemen, and families of victims at Ground Zero at the Family Assistance Center at Pier 54 in New York City. He has helped children undergoing chemotherapy, chronically and critically ill children at the Schneider’s Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park New York and the Silver Lining Ranch in Aspen, Colorado. Lefty also chalked up a lot of hours at North Shore/Long Island Jewish Hospital in the Recreational Rehabilitation Center and has worked his canine magic with autistic children by letting them pet, walk and on special occasions, they even talk to him.
“People in pain, physical or mental, often just need something to hug,” said Judy Wilpon, Lefty’s owner. “As a stranger, I can’t walk up to someone and offer that consolation. Lefty can walk into a room, lay his head on a patient’s knee or just go up to them with his tail wagging and a big goofy, doggie smile on his face and they open their hearts to him. There is something magical about the unconditional love and understanding Lefty brings to each patient which makes them feel better.”
Judy is also Lefty’s personal chauffeur. During weekly visits to places like the Cohen (formerly Schneider’s) Children’s Medical Center or the Glen Cove North Shore/LIJ Hospital, Lefty has helped people with disabilities gain motor skills by allowing them to brush his coat, throw and catch balls, shake hands, and even help with speech therapy when patients are encouraged to ask Lefty to do things, for instance, sit, lay down, come, or shake hands. He’s been a confidante for others who have lost faith in the world around them or a loved one.
“He just makes people smile,” said Megan Brown, a DVM candidate in the Class of 2011 who scrubbed in on Lefty’s surgery. “Because of the tumor’s location, it was a precarious surgery, but Dr. [Jim] Flanders made it look effortless, and Lefty’s owner, Judy, trusted us. She believed in us.”
This experience solidified Brown’s (pictured, far left) career goals.
“I’ve always been interested in both surgery and oncology,” said Brown, who will begin a small animal rotating internship at Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine in the summer. “I always thought that combination would allow my work to make a difference in my patients’ and owners’ lives, but now I know that for sure.”