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Vandy is a black Labrador retriever who works at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital on our recreational therapy team. The sweet-natured pup is trained in animal-assisted interventions to help patients meet specific rehabilitation goals. Her presence alone can lift spirits.

Vandy works with recreational therapists with specialty training in animal-assisted therapy that engages patients of all ages and abilities in a range of therapeutic settings. Her handlers work with physical, occupational and speech-language therapists on a variety of tasks to improve fine and gross motor skills, mobility and endurance as well as cognitive function and emotional well-being.

She encourages patients to walk a little farther and sit up independently. She helps patients practice their speech by giving her verbal commands and improve hand strength by brushing her or throwing her a ball. She even plays cards.

Vandy is the first animal-assisted intervention dog in Michigan trained by PAWS With a Cause, a national non-profit organization based in Wayland, Mich.

Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy

Decreases heart rate and blood pressure, pain
Improves fine motor skills and gross motor skills, standing balance and wheelchair mobility, endurance

Decreases anxiety and stress, depression and isolation
Increases self-esteem and feelings of acceptance

Increases attention skills, mental stimulation, verbal interaction, sequencing, problem-solving

Q&A with Vandy

Vandy lives with her primary handler and spends her free time going for walks in the neighborhood, playing in the yard and relaxing. Vandy shared some of her favorite things:

Favorite treat: Peanut butter off the doctor’s spoon.

Favorite trick: “Guess Which Hand the Treat Is In”

Favorite place to nap: Underneath the hammock in my backyard after work.

Favorite thing to do off-duty: Take long walks and meet other neighborhood dogs.

What makes you happy? Dancing through anyone’s legs who will let me!

What are you dreaming about when you’re barking and running in your sleep? Chasing other dogs and looking for the tastiest grass.

Pet peeve: When people touch my ticklish paws.

Bedtime routine: First I brush my teeth and my hair, then I get tucked into bed with my favorite plaid blanket.


*Mary Free Bed employees, patients and visitors are asked to refrain from contact with Vandy unless granted permission from her handlers. She is working when she is on campus and should not be distracted. Unnecessary contact could result in deconditioning of her behaviors.