Golden Girl: Therapy dog helps North Carolina man mend broken hearts

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HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – There’s a saying you may have seen, likely on a t-shirt or bumper sticker somewhere. “Dog is love,” the short and sweet sentiment reads.

If you know, you know.

Hospitals depend on volunteers from all walks of life, and one man brings his best friend.

“Okay baby, time to go to work!” Ray Angele said, letting his golden retriever sidekick Alaska out of his vehicle at Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center.

“She’ll be waiting at the back door, waiting for me to load her in the car to come over here. She knows where she’s going,” he told Queen City News.

He and the therapy dog unleash goodwill a couple of times a week. Her arrival instantly draws a chorus of oohs and aahs.

“Alaska, you want to get on your back?” Angele says as if he’s performing a magic trick for nurses and other hospital staff.

“It just makes everything better,” one woman said to a co-worker.

They had Alaska surrounded as they petted her.

“She’s my favorite!” we heard.

“Just so loving, kisses, pets, wagging the tale. It’s like, ‘Man, how can you not be in love with that,’” says CNA Laura Opekun.

Even folks who aren’t “dog people” light up.

“This is my grandma, my Nanna, Norma Cross,” said Hanna Cross, as Alaska strutted into her grandmother’s patient room.

“Well, you can’t help but smile when you see her,” Angele says, well aware of her therapeutic value.

Five years ago, he was heartbroken when another golden, Maggie May, died of liver cancer. Adopting Alaska filled an emotional void.

“She has the most gentle disposition of any dog I’ve been around,” said Angele.

Novant Health is always in need of volunteers with therapy dogs. There are five therapy dogs that visit Novant Health Huntersville and two are from the same household. Alaska and Angele’s other retriever, Layla are both certified.

While we were there, patient Richard Dishman was golden.

“Hello! Would you like a visit from a therapy dog?” asks Angele.

“Well, sure!” Dishman said.

“Immediately what you think of when you see the dog is, you think of your friends and family and their animals,” says Dishman.

As she makes the rounds, Alaska seems to have a sixth sense. A visitor had tears in her eyes when she saw a kind face.

“She likes you, she knows you need a little loving,” Angele told her. “You need some loving.”

“I needed that,” she said after petting the dog.

“I think you did,” Angele responded.

“It gives them something to think about in a more positive way for a few minutes,” he said of Alaska’s impact.

Let’s just say Angele struck gold when he brought her home.

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“But I want to feel like she loves us the most,” a staffer said as she greeted Alaska.

She makes everyone feel special.

For hospital workers who know and love Alaska, it’s comforting to know that she’s just a short car ride away.

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