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Monter Cancer Center service dog Hendrix brings good cheer to patients

Dr. Cristina Ghiuzeli of Monter Cancer Center In Lake Success spoke Friday about Hendrix, a golden retriever mix she rescued that has become a therapy dog. (Credit: Newsday / Yeong-Ung Yang)

Ushna Khan was at the Monter Cancer Center In Lake Success receiving chemotherapy infusions when an unusual visitor showed up in her cubicle: a 5-year-old golden retriever mix named Hendrix.

Khan was bitten by a pit bull a few years back, making her cautious around dogs. But as Hendrix stood at the foot of her chair waiting to be petted, Khan melted.

“He’s really sweet," the 20-year-old Nassau Community College student said last Friday. “I am just happy seeing him, to be honest. I want to keep this dog."

Hendrix’s visit was the brainchild of Dr. Cristina Ghiuzeli, a hematologist at the center. She adopted Hendrix as a puppy from the North Shore Animal League in Port Washington, where he was brought as a rescue dog from Mississippi. Eventually, she decided to bring some of the joy the dog gives her and her husband to her patients as well.

“You don’t have to be a doctor to see the impact it makes," she said. “It really brightens them up. I think it is wonderful.”

Hendrix, along with his owner, has undergone training so he can serve as a therapy dog. He visits the center once or twice a month.

After he makes the rounds of patients with Ghiuzeli leading him on a leash, he hangs out in her office or wanders around her department.

He has become something of a celebrity there, with staff spoiling him with treats. He even has his own Instagram page, with about 5,700 followers.

“The staff loves Hendrix," said Claire Nikola, director of patient care services at the center. “It has a great impact on the patients. It makes them smile. They are going through a very hard time right now, taking treatment. It takes their minds off of what is going on. He’s a great distraction.”

Hendrix can do lots of tricks. He does a “high five” where he leans back on his hind quarters and raises both front paws to make contact with Ghiuzeli’s two hands. He plays dead, and does a “bow” by leaning down on his front legs.

But he mostly brings joy and comfort to the patients simply by being there.

”He’s beautiful. Such a beautiful coat,” said another patient, Lauran Decker, 60, of Lido Beach.

“Goodness, you are handsome,” she told Hendrix.

He stops staff members in their tracks as they come down the hall, thrilled to have the distraction of a furry, friendly dog as they carry on the challenge of working with cancer patients.

He was named after the famed musician Jimi Hendrix.  Ghiuzeli and her husband love classic rock, and often go to concerts.

Since the dog came from Mississippi they wanted to name him after a blues musician, but couldn’t agree on one. So, they settled on Hendrix, who played the blues and rock.

Monter is not the only hospital that sees the benefits of therapy dogs. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan and Cohen Children’s Medical Center near Monter also use the animals, Ghiuzeli said. So do Kellenberg and Chaminade high schools run by the Marianist brothers in Nassau County.

Ghiuzeli plans to keep Hendrix at Monter as long as she can.

“He’s such a happy-go-lucky dog," she said. He helps people “get their daily dose of happiness. I can’t tell you how many times people say, ‘It made my day.’”

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