Pappy Boyington wagged his tail as staff members and visitors to the hospital stopped to say hello, welcoming the 15-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback/lab mix for his first day on the job.
“I think he’s great,” said Jennifer Cruz, a registered nurse and patient safety manager at the hospital. “It is always great to see a puppy; it just brightens your soul.”
Pappy is the first therapy dog to visit the hospital as part of the Canine Visitation Program, a partnership between NMCCL and the American Red Cross. The mission of the program is to facilitate patient recovery, decrease stress levels and provide a communication medium for patients, family and personnel.
Capt. James Hancock, commanding officer for Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune, said Pappy will be a great asset to the hospital, with research showing the health benefits to patients as well as helping to relieve the stress among staff in what can be difficult situations.
“Pappy is all about making people feel better,” Hancock said in a ceremony introducing him as the hospital’s new therapy dog.
Pappy is named after a World War II Marine Corps fighter pilot and his owner and trainer Sunnie Tortorici said he has the tenacity and perseverance of his namesake.
Pappy was surrendered to the Onslow County Animal Shelter in December due to perceived behavioral problems and medical issues. It was determined that he had been abused, Tortorici said.
“It was Christmas time and he was just turning 9 months old and his future looked bleak,” she said.
Tortorici adopted him and through her help he’s earned his American Kennel Club Good Citizen and Therapy One training. Tortorici said Pappy did a majority of his training with the Marines of Wounded Warrior Battalion East and the initial thought was he may become someone’s service dog.
But Pappy has a story of determination and perseverance of his own to share, Tortorici said, and it is one she hopes will inspire many others who may be going through difficult or challenging times.
“Pappy is not your typical therapy dog you see coming through the hospital, but my hope is Pappy’s story of determination, courage and perseverance will inspire patients and staff at the medical center to carry on and get them through the hard times,” she said.
Terry Gentry, of the American Red Cross at Camp Lejeune, said they hope to grow the program and bring in additional therapy dogs.
Pappy was a well-received first for the medical center as he joined the roster of volunteers.
“We have more than 200 volunteers who work here at the Naval hospital and they contribute over 1,000 hours a month,” Gentry said. “Pappy is our latest volunteer. We can’t count his numbers but we can count on him to bring smiles to people’s faces.”
Pappy quickly did just that as he showed his puppy spirit during the ceremony and got up to walk around as his trainer was telling his story.
“Sometimes they just want to be dogs,” Tortorici said.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Samantha Grillo stopped by after the ceremony to welcome Pappy with a belly rub.
“I think it is great to have him here,” she said. “I think dogs lower the stress level. I’d have him in my office if I could.”
Commander Shawn Kase, a nurse anesthetist and assistant director for strategy and operations at the medical center, led the efforts to implement the program.
“When a dog comes around, a person’s face lights right up. It can be very comforting to have a pet around,” Kase said.