Saving Gracie

Therapy dog at South Nassau Communities Hospital celebrates first year


Gracie, a therapy dog with South Nassau Communities Hospital, has reached one year volunteering and will continue doing what she does best — comforting patients and being a good girl.

Gracie, 3, became a therapy dog last April after her owner Michael Tessitore trained and had her evaluated. The duo became a registered therapy dog team with Pet Partners, a not-for-profit animal-assisted therapy organization, and then they began volunteering at South Nassau Communities Hospital.

“She is the true volunteer and I am her handler and advocate,” Tessitore told the Herald. “Everyone knows her name, and mine, well, not so much. And that’s fine, that’s the way it should be. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Tessitore found Gracie through Sunshine Golden Retriever Rescue, a nonprofit organization that rescues and then finds loving homes for Golden Retrievers. He and his wife drove up to New Hampshire to meet her and then took home a then-18-month-old Gracie. Tessitore said she was always naturally calm and obedient, with an unusually good temperament.

Following the adoption, Tessitore began helping out with SGRR and brought Gracie — his “Velcro dog” — along with him for house visits. She had a special way with applicants who had recently lost their own Golden Retriever; they would often get emotional and break down while holding her, and Gracie always took it well. Eventually one applicant, whom directed at a nursing home in Long Island, was enthralled by Gracie’s comforting skills and suggested Tessitore have her be an official therapy dog. “It had never entered my mind before,” Tessitore said. “I feel some things happen for a reason and this series of events is one of those things.”

Although Tessitore believes all patients are important, he and Gracie’s favorite demographic are children. They take a particular liking to her that is different than other age groups, and these moments always seem to stand out. “The way they light up when Gracie enters the room is a beautiful thing and each visit is an unforgettable experience.”

When she’s not working, Gracie hangs out with Tessitore and her sister Lily, a 4-year-old Golden Retriever, also rescued through SGRR. He hopes there are many more years to come for his teammate/good girl Gracie and her life as a service dog.