SIUH Hospice dog retires after 10 years of service

Golden retriever who brought smiles to sad faces gets a swell send-off

Kiawana Rich/Staten Island Advance By Kiawana Rich/Staten Island Advance
on December 02, 2013 at 10:25 PM, updated December 03, 2013 at 2:03 AM
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- He's the goldie with the heart of gold. But age has finally caught up with Sambro, who retrieved some semblance of joy for so many who had lost it.

So they sent the 12-year-old dog into well-deserved retirement Monday night, after his nine years of gracing the halls of Staten Island University Hospital and nursing homes and lending his reassuring presence to 9/11 memorials.

Sambro, University Hospital's Hospice Therapy Dog, was feted at its Regina M. McGinn's Education Center.

The Port Richmond pooch basked in the moment -- canine-style, of course. Lying down -- good dog! -- he greeted admirers, posed for numerous pictures and interviews and accepted accolades from the likes of District Attorney Daniel Donovan and Assemblyman Matthew Titone.

Sharing the limelight was Sambro's owner, Dennis Nelson, 64.

University Hospital's Executive Director Donna Proske called the two volunteers a "dynamic duo" who logged countless hours visiting sick patients and raising funds.

"They work hand in hand, or shall we say paw in paw," said she with a Cheshire cat (horrors!) grin.

Paula McAvoy, administrative director of University Hospice, recited Sambro's biography, not failing to note that he's "a native Staten Islander."

Sambro's "beautiful, gentle and calm nature" made him a natural, she said, when it came to comforting folks such as those undergoing chemotherapy.

Patricia Higgins of Bulls Head knows firsthand what Sambro can do to heal a hurting heart. Her husband, Jerome, afflicted with cancer, stayed at the Addeo Hospice before dying in August.

"He is very compassionate," she said. "He is a quiet dog and he's very comforting." She credited Sambro with fostering "an overwhelmingly positive experience during a terribly negative time."

Nelson, for his part, said, "I would like to especially thank the hospital staff for the love they gave this dog. They fed him, took him out to the bathroom. ... No one brought me coffee but they love this dog."

The owner stressed Sambro's presence at 9/11 memorials: "That was his busiest day of the year."

Bronksey, the special-victims dog, tagged along with the district attorney Monday night. "I think it's all cool," gushed Donovan. "Dogs just ease people's tension and anxiety and nervousness and bring such joy."

The night was also about passing the torch to Gigi, the little black poodle who will become the hospice's newest therapy dog.

Owner Barbara Strafella said that at her salon, Wake Up with Makeup in New Dorp, Gigi has gained plenty of experience in comforting cancer patient.

Differences abound. Where Sambro relied on his sleek masculinity, Gigi indulges her feminine side, including a polka-dog skirt, pearls and fuchsia fingernail polish. She's only 5.5 pounds and 12 inches, but Ms. Strafella said Gigi will have no problem filling Sambro's shoes: "She'll be just fine."

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