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August 26, 2014
Kathleen Paice,

Katie Martino, 14 year-old Westie who served as a therapy dog at Upstate for more than a decade, retires

SYRACUSE. N.Y.— Katie Martino, a 14 year-old West Highland White Terrier, retired this month from Upstate University Hospital’s Animal Assisted Therapy Program after 13 years of service. Katie lives in Brewerton with her owners, Linda and Ray Martino. Katie volunteered twice a week in Upstate’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation inpatient unit, 2 North, and made additional trips to visit psychiatric patients.

Since beginning her volunteer career at Upstate in 2001, it is estimated that Katie had 780 patient encounters.

“Katie and Linda, along with all of our pet therapy volunteers, have supported our patients by visiting with those who miss their pet at home or just want a friendly dog to pet and snuggle with,” said Rhonda Butler, Upstate’s manager of Volunteer Initiatives. “Katie looks forward to working in the hospital and it is great seeing the smiles that shine on the faces of our patients after Katie visits them. We are very lucky to have dedicated four-legged volunteers who enjoy visiting with our patients,” said Butler.

Donna Sims, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist, interviews all pet therapy dogs and owners for the rehabilitation unit and screens them for qualities necessary to thrive in a hospital environment. “Hospitals are full of distractions that could prevent a dog from focusing on the task at hand, which is serving our patients,” said Sims. From loud carts rolling down hallways, people and smells, not every animal is comfortable in the hospital environment. “It takes a special combination of dog and owner to volunteer in a hospital pet therapy setting,” said Sims.

Upstate’s Animal Assisted Therapy Program, started by Child Life Program Manager Margaret Nellis, officially began in Fall 1998 in the Department of Pediatrics. The program has had a total of 26 human volunteers, many of whom retire one dog and bring a second or third in their place. Upstate currently has 16 pet therapy volunteers.

Pet therapy volunteers are required to have their pet certified through PAWS of CNY. Once they are certified, they apply to participate in Upstate University Hospital’s program online through Upstate’s Volunteer Services. Katie is a certified as a pet therapy dog through PAWS of CNY, holds the Canine Good Citizen certification and is certified with the American Kennel Club.

Katie, Linda and Ray Martino will retire, along with their two other dogs, to Pittsburgh.

Caption: Katie Martino, a 14-year-old West Highland White Terrier from Brewerton, sits with her owner, Linda, left, and a patient, at a retirement party held in celebration of Katie’s 13-year-long volunteer career at Upstate University Hospital.

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