Beloved Therapy Dog Hangs Up His Collar

Hospice Therapy Dog Hangs up the Collar
Sambro helped patients for 10 years, leaving paw prints on many hearts.

STATEN ISLAND — The outcast of his litter, nobody wanted Sambro when he was born. While his brothers and sisters were adopted in a flash, the only family who gave the yellow Labrador a chance returned him within hours after he had an “accident.”

“I had barely gotten home before they said to come take him back,” said Dennis Nelson, who owned both Sambro’s mother, Sandy and father, Sammy. “Looking back, boy, am I glad they didn’t keep him.”

Born on the heels of 9/11, Sambro always exuded love, calm and sensitivity, prompting Mr. Nelson to pursue special training. “I saw an ad in the paper asking if your pet had what it took to be a therapy dog. I knew then and there that this is what Sambro is here to do,” he said.

The compassionate canine graduated dog therapy school and began putting his skills to work, bringing smiles to end-of-life patients and their families, demonstrating that he is a very special dog. After losing his own biological father to cancer, Sambro expanded his services to nursing homes, hospitals and at Ground Zero to support 9/11 families. On every anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Mr. Nelson brings Sambro to the national memorial in Manhattan, where he “rests his head on anyone who needs the company.”

A Great Listener

“Sometimes people don’t want to talk to other people,” said Paula McAvoy, RN, administrative director of University Hospice. “We’ve had countless times where patients requested him to talk to. It’s so fulfilling to be able to offer this to people in need.”

“It’s quite amazing what he can do for you, and all he has to do is be in the room,” said Patricia Higgins, a finance specialist at Staten Island University Hospital who lost her husband, Jerome, to cancer this past August. “He provides you with an overwhelmingly positive experience during a terribly negative time.”

As for Mr. Nelson, he didn’t quite realize what keeping Sambro would mean for his life, as he’s been at his side volunteering at the hospital with him all of these years. “I would like to thank the hospital staff for the love they gave this dog. They fed him, they walked him, but no one ever even bought me a cup of coffee,” he joked, holding back tears. “I’m just so happy he was here to help.”

With his characteristic “smile” and tranquil demeanor, Sambro officially passed the torch to Gigi, a black poodle who is taking the reins as therapy dog at University Hospice.

As for Sambro’s golden years, it’s time to loosen up the leash and try to sleep in. “He’s calm when he’s here, but at home he’s a riot. Nobody believes me,” said Mr. Nelson. “We’ll see how his ‘retirement’ goes.”

Note: Sambro crossed the Rainbow Bridge the summer after this story published.

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