Four-Legged Friend Boosts Spirits at UPMC East

By: Courtney Caprara, John Dillard and Tim Betler

During his working hours, Lenny Picone cooks up delicious meals for the patients and staff at UPMC East. On his days off, he still comes to work, but he brings his border collie mix Monty with him. Monty, a trained therapy dog, roams the hospital with Picone, bringing smiles to everyone he greets.

Monty was certified by Therapy Dogs International in 2012 following a hospital stay in 2011 that left Picone missing his furry friend. After he received a visit from two therapy dogs, his spirits soared and he knew that Monty would be able to boost the spirits of hospital patients as well. After training in 12 obedience-based disciplines, Monty is comfortable riding elevators, navigating wheelchairs and being in the presence of medical equipment.“The training Monty went through was mostly for me,” said Picone. “I learned the right way to handle the visit and also let Monty know what is appropriate and how to act in any given situation.”

Over his years of both working and volunteering at UPMC East, Picone has formed great relationships with his fellow staff members. He works with them to determine what specific patients or units would benefit from a visit from Monty, and everyone looks forward to seeing Monty’s wagging tail on their unit. Some units even keep a stash of dog treats just for Monty.

Pet therapy can be calming for patients undergoing treatment in the hospital, many of whom have a pet at home that is awaiting their return. Simply petting a therapy dog like Monty can help eliminate tension and stress, allowing patients to forget that they are in the hospital. The laughter and smiles Monty creates have not been lost on Picone.

“Providing pet therapy with Monty has been one of the most touching things I have done in my life. My problems seem so little when I visit these patients,” said Picone. “Monty is such a sweetheart, and I hope to continue to help him spread his love to patients, staff and visitors for a long time.”