Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, a 6-year-old visits patients at Weiss Memorial Hospital. Very polite for his age, he never enters a room unless the people inside invite him, and he answers to “Ranger.”
Ranger is a 75-pound collie, like the famous movie and television star Lassie. He belongs to retired police officer Terry Tauber, who worked for the city of Chicago for 21 years before retiring in 2007. For the past few years, she has escorted Ranger to patient rooms at the hospital twice a week.
The pair waits outside each room while an escort goes in first to ask whether or not the patient or patient’s family wants to visit with the dog. One morning, the escort came back out of a patient’s room uncertain. The woman inside spoke no English, he said, and he couldn’t tell if she wanted to see Ranger or not.
“OK, let’s go in a little bit and see how she reacts,” Tauber said.
As they entered the room, the woman gasped in surprise. “Lassie!” she exclaimed, in a thick Russian accent.
“The people just completely perk up,” says Caren Perlmuter, vice president of the geriatric service line. “They would jump out of bed if they could, and some do.”
On a separate visit, another woman beckoned Ranger into her room, but pulled away frightened when he came close. As the woman extended her hand cautiously to pet him, she started crying and explained that she’d never been so close to a dog. Tauber started crying too. “I often wonder why she asked us in,” Tauber says, with a few months’ perspective.
In the past year, since Tauber and Ranger started coming to Weiss, stories like these have become a part of Tauber’s life.
“Weiss has been good to me,” she says, alluding to the friendly staff and free meals in the cafeteria when she was on duty. “This is my way of giving back.” Regarding Ranger, she adds, “If he knew how to drive and didn’t have to rely on me, he’d come here himself every day. He gets so excited when I put his little green cape on.”
Ranger at work at Weiss.
Ranger’s “cape” is actually a form of identification similar to what seeing-eye-dogs wear. It shows that the Delta Society has registered him as a therapy dog. The Delta Society’s mission is to “help lead the world in advancing human health and well-being through positive interactions with animals.” According to the society’s Web site, the group has registered more than 10,000 people and their pets, teams which represent all 50 states and 13 countries. They visit hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and schools in order to offer comfort to people in difficult situations.
As nurses and doctors pass in the hallway, their faces lighten when they see Ranger trotting toward them, his thick brown and white mane bouncing. “Hi, Ranger!” their voices rise in excitement. “Let me see my Ranger!”
Undoubtedly, Ranger’s visits benefit more than the patients. “Everybody benefits—the nurses, the doctors. He knows all his fans,” Tauber says.
“He just breathes life into people,” Perlmuter adds.
Often, the patients’ families benefit most. Patient Gerald Sussler’s daughters, sons and wife Winnie sat gathered around his bed singing when Ranger entered their room.
"After Grandpa crushed his vertebrae, he just wanted to get well enough to walk the dog,” says daughter Karen of her father, who lay intubated in the bed.
The family happened to have a long history with collies, at least one of whom thought of itself as a lap dog and used to make itself comfortable in Sussler’s lap. Seeing Ranger brought back those memories for the family. As they fed Ranger treats from Tauber’s bag, they laughed and reminisced about all of their dogs from over the years—including a stray collie with matted hair and outdated tags that they picked up along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Before leaving, Tauber left the Susslers with color photographs of Ranger, (which she regularly hands out to patients). In her bag, Tauber also carries laminated 8x10 inch photographs of Ranger posing with his father, Cody, in front of an American flag.
Tauber says that by now, everyone at the hospital knows Ranger. “No one knows my name,” she says, “and that’s how it should be.”
For more information about becoming a volunteer at Weiss, visit Volunteer or call (773) 564-7294.