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Therapy dog Rudy visits Unity Health

Ron Thompson of Batesville with his miniature Maltese therapy dog Rudy.

Special to the Independent

In recent years, thousands of medical facilities have opened their doors to therapy pets. A therapy pet is an animal, most often a dog, that visits hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes and schools for the purpose of helping individuals cope with health problems or emotional stress in order to make them feel better.

Research shows that loving interactions with an animal can increase endorphins, oxytocin, prolactin and dopamine in the brain, which helps with blood pressure regulation, pain relief, stress relief and overall happiness.

Beginning in early summer, Unity Health Harris Medical Center opened it’s doors to Rudy, a therapy service dog, who makes weekly visits to patients in our Compass, Clearview and Med Surg units. Rudy is a 9-year-old miniature Maltese and is owned by Ron Thompson of Batesville. Thompson and Rudy travel to several hospitals and nursing homes within 75 miles of Batesville all free of charge. In addition, the pair make visits to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock and St. Jude’s in Memphis as often as they can.

Before traveling around with Rudy, Thompson was involved in many professions. He spent some time driving trucks, raising horses and even taught children in special education. Thompson said he received a calling from God to serve as a chaplain in 1988.

“I received my call while I was driving an 18 wheeler,” he said. “I didn’t understand it at the time but knew that God was telling me to drive all over the United States and Canada to tell people about Him.”

Thompson said he’s always followed and trusted God in whatever he was led to do.

Nine years ago, another calling came when some of Thompson’s dear friends gifted him with Rudy. For the first six weeks, Thompson didn’t know what he was going to do with Rudy and even tried to give him away. He said it didn’t take long for him to receive a clear vision of what God was calling him to do with Rudy; use him as a therapy service dog to bring happiness to others.

“You just can’t imagine the joy Rudy brings to the patients,” Thompson said.

As for special training and what it takes to become a therapy service dog, Thompson said that he took Rudy to special training in Little Rock.

“Rudy spent some time in training and then they handed him back and said he has everything it takes to be a service dog,” Thompson said.

He feels that God equipped Rudy with everything he needed to serve others; love, patience and gentleness. Thompson said that when Rudy makes a visit, the patients are given a choice of whether to spend time with him but not many ever pass up the chance. Visits can take place with the patient sitting in a chair, in the hospital bed or even during a walk down the hall with Rudy riding on his walker.

“It’s not about me though, it’s all about Rudy. He just makes people feel good,” Thompson said. “He brings such happiness to the patients and that’s something money can’t buy.”