Health & Wellness

Canine Therapy Brings Comfort to Patients and Loved Ones at Center for Hope Hospice

Atlas, who lives in Fanwood, visits Father Hudson House twice a month with owner Karin Brystol. Credits: Center for Hope Hospice
Rio, from Warren, has an impressive resume that includes being a member of Dog Scouts of America and an AKC Canine Good Citizen. Credits: Center for Hope Hospice
Karl comes to work with owner Nancy Rager, RN, the administrator of the Center for Hope Hospice & Palliative Care. Rager says the pup has a bright future as a pet therapy volunteer. Credits: Center for Hope Hospice
Coco comes from Manville to visit Father Hudson House in Elizabeth on Tuesdays with owner Tracy Rydzy, a staff member of the Center. Credits: Center for Hope Hospice

SCOTCH PLAINS, N.J., April 21, 2017 – Rio, Atlas, Coco and Karl are a special breed of volunteer at the Center for Hope Hospice & Palliative Care. The canines bring their comforting presence and the benefits of animal therapy to patients and their loved ones at both of the Center’s two residences—Peggy’s House in Scotch Plains and Father Hudson House in Elizabeth—as well as enhance morale for staff members there.

Animal therapy is common in various healthcare environments but it is unusual to bring canine volunteers into a hospice residence. As part of its holistic approach to hospice care and palliative pain management, the Center for Hope Hospice incorporates many therapeutic modalities to provide comfort for those in its care, including pet therapy.

Patients, their loved ones and employees at the Center look forward to visits from:

Sign Up for E-News

  • Rio, a Belgian Teruven from Warren, who is also a member of Dog Scouts of America, an AKC Canine Good Citizen and has a resume of other skills.
  • Atlas, an AKC champion Newfoundland from Fanwood, certified by Therapy Dogs International. He visits Father Hudson House twice a month with owner Karin Brystol. Brystol’s father received hospice care and she knows firsthand the positive effect canine therapy can have on people at the end of their lives.
  • Coco, a chocolate Labrador retriever from Manville. She usually visits Father Hudson House every Tuesday (with an occasional visit to Peggy’s House) with owner Tracy Rydzy, who is on staff at the Center. An emotional support dog, Coco provides a comforting presence, including for people in the Center’s bereavement group.
  • Karl, a six-month-old German shepherd puppy from Scotch Plains started to visit this past winter, coming to work every Wednesday with owner Nancy Rager, RN, the administrator for Center for Hope Hospice. Ragerhad two other canine volunteers who spent years bringing joy and comfort to patients and families.

Pet therapy and interaction with gentle, friendly pets have been shown to:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Elevate mood, have a calming effect
  • Reduce anxiety or depression
  • Diminish physical pain
  • Increase socialization and decrease feelings of isolation

The pups make regular visits with their owners, who agree that the visits are therapeutic and the benefits apparent for everyone who interacts with them.

Rio’s owner Joan Stiener knew of the Center through a friend whose family members received care there and she’d always heard such positive feedback about it. Now she’s getting positive feedback about Rio’s visits.

“When Rio walks in, people see him and melt. Those who have had pets before are reminded of that happiness and others, who are initially intimidated, warm up to Rio and want to pet him. It’s very joyful to see how they interact with him,” said Stiener, who added that patients’ family members come in to pet and play with him. “It really means a lot to do this,” she said.

Rydzy, Coco’s owner, said it is uncanny how the dog intuits when someone needs a visit, often pulling her into a room to visit certain patients. “Coco instinctively knows to go to certain patients or family members who need comforting,” she noted, “and at the bereavement group, just having the dog there creates a sense of calm.” Coco’s calming effect extends beyond the bereavement group.  

“I see patients with unstable moods or who are depressed but they forget all about it when she’s there. Petting a dog lowers stress and blood pressure and I can see the sense of happiness Coco brings to people at the Center,” said Rydzy.

Atlas’s owner, Brystol agrees. “It’s very rewarding to see the smiles on faces when Atlas comes by. He loves to be petted and there are people who seek him out to do just that.”

Rager has been bringing dogs to the Center for Hope Hospice since 2007—first Winston, then Wes and now Karl, who she says is showing great promise as a pet therapy volunteer.

“Not every dog is good at this but Karl is so attentive to people’s needs and so mature when it comes to dealing with patients,” she said. “He’s very gentle with the residents, letting them pet him and licking their hands. Interacting with him takes residents out of their moments of pain.” Rager added that Karl is helping families as well. “They line up outside my office door on Wednesdays to see Karl and have quiet time with him.”

Center for Hope Hospice (Center for Hope) is a non-profit, community based organization that provides terminally ill patients with hospice care, and their families or loved ones with physical, emotional, and spiritual support during their time of need. It is one of New Jersey’s only independent, non-profit, community-based hospice organizations. Center for Hope offeris services at its two residences -- Father Hudson House in Elizabeth and Peggy’s House in Scotch Plains -- as well as in other healthcare settings or patients’ homes. For more information about palliative care or to ask about volunteer opportunities, visit or call (908) 889-7780. is Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s only free daily paper. Sign up for our daily eNews and follow us on Facebook and twitter @SPF_TAP. Download the free TAPinto App for iPhone or Android.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

Sign Up for E-News


Free Citizenship Workshop to be Held This Saturday in Elizabeth

March 19, 2018

ELIZABETH, NJ - A free Citizenship Workshop will be held this Saturday, March 24, at the Santa Isabel Lutheran Church from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. located at 908 East Jersey Street in Elizabeth.

The Citizenship Drive is an annual event that assists eligible residents to apply for naturalization. Immigration attorneys will be present to screen eligibility and trained volunteers will assist in the ...

Teacher Training at Trailside

MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ  - Teacher Training programs at Trailside will be offered this spring for teachers of students in Kindergarten through grade twelve starting March 15.

Project WET, a teacher training program for teachers K – 12 will be offered on Thurs. March 15 from 9 a.m.. to 3 p.m.  This workshop will provide the necessary tools, resources, and lessons for teachers ...

Daylight Savings Time Begins this Weekend - Remember to Turn Your Clocks Forward

ELIZABETH, NJ - The winter months are about to come to an end. You know spring is definitely around the corner when Daylight Savings Time begins. A reminder to everyone to turn your clocks forward one hour tonight when you go to bed. Daylight Savings time officially begins at 2 a.m. Sunday morning. 

While many will dread losing that hour of sleep, that extra hour of daylight will be ...

Elizabeth Rotary to Hold “Pancakes to the Beat” Fundraiser

ELIZABETH, NJ - The Rotary Club of Elizabeth is holding their 44th Annual Pancake Breakfast on Saturday, March 24 from 8 a.m. to noon in the cafeteria at Victor Mravlag School #21, located at 132 Shelly Avenue, Elizabeth.  

Entertainment will be provided by School #21’s, Third Grade Recorder Ensemble. Tickets are $8 and include a full pancake and sausage breakfast. The ...

Union County Students to 'March for Our Lives' Saturday in Union

March 19, 2018

UNION, NJ – Students from all over Union County will be walking from Burnet Middle School to Town Hall on Saturday morning, March 24, in an anti-gun violence march.

Led by steering committee chairman Colin Sumner, the march, which has the support of Senator Joseph Cryan, Moms Demand Action, Union County Chapter, and the Union County Freeholders, is not aimed at taking away guns, but ...

Hillsborough: Suspended HS Athletic Director Charged with Theft

March 20, 2018

HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - Suspended Hillsborough High School Athletic Director Michael Fanizzi has been arrested and charged with the theft of $10,704 in athletic event receipts over a four-year period from 2013-2017, according to Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson.

Fanizzi, 53, a resident of Conover Way in Hillsborough who had been athletics director for 14 years,, had been suspended ...

'Trying' explores age, youth and points of history in poignant production

‘Trying’ explores youth, age and points of history in poignant production

By Liz Keill

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The George Street Playhouse presents an engrossing, two-character play based on the real life of Francis Biddle, former Attorney General.

Biddle, a Harvard educated lawyer, served under Franklin Roosevelt and later Harry Truman during the Nuremberg Tribunal. His ...

Union County Celebrates Arbor Day 2018 with Free Trees for Schools

March 20, 2018

In recognition of Arbor Day 2018, the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders is once again partnering with the Union County Shade Tree Advisory Board to sponsor the annual Arbor Day Tree Planting Program, which provides free trees for participating schools.

“The Arbor Day tree planting program is a Union County tradition that provides students with important hands-on lessons about the ...