March 19, 2024

Facility dog supports physical and occupational therapy patients

After removing the cast from her healing broken arm, DuMont, New Jersey resident Margaret Klein, 54, had her first appointment with orthopedics specialist Gerald Andah, MD. When asked how she was doing, she told Dr. Andah that her left hand felt numb.

“My left hand was not moving well,” said Klein. “I would try to open it, but nothing happened. Thankfully, I am right-handed and can do a lot with just that hand. But you never know how much you use your other hand until you can’t.”

Dr. Andah prescribed a series of physical therapy sessions at The Center for Therapy and Rehabilitation Services. The facility provides exercises for strength, flexibility, walking and balance, manual therapy and pain reduction methods, all with physical therapists from Hackensack Meridian Pascack Valley Medical Center.

As Klein began manual therapy sessions to increase her hand’s flexibility, she experienced a lot of pain.

That’s when the team introduced Klein to Keltie: a Golden Retriever who was specially trained to help comfort and motivate her patients during therapies.

Keltie’s training

Keltie began her service animal training as an eight-week-old puppy. During the first year, she learned basic obedience and early socialization skills in various settings. She then spent nine months of training with professional instructors on Long Island, learning more than 40 specialized commands, such as:

  • > Retrieve and deliver dropped items
  • > Tug to open a door or drawer
  • > Pull a laundry basket or help with a sock or jacket
  • > Push with their nose to shut a drawer
  • > Open a door with an automatic push plate

Keltie was eventually matched with her facilitator, Ashley Solow, PT, DPT, a clinical specialist and physical therapist at Pascack Valley Medical Center. Together they completed one month of team training that consisted of intensive lectures, hands-on training, multiple examinations and public practicums.

After completing and passing the Assistance Dogs International (ADI) testing, they were accredited to work in a healthcare setting. Keltie and Ashley repeat ADI testing every two years to renew their certification.

Joint therapy sessions

The inclusion of Keltie in therapy sessions turned out to be very beneficial for Klein.

“I chose to include Keltie in our sessions with Klein because she is an animal lover and she is experiencing a lot of pain during the stretching exercises,” said Lisa Rizza, OTR/L, CLT, an occupational therapist.

“To get her engaged in her exercises at the level she needs to be, she has to tolerate a little discomfort,” said Rizza. “With Keltie next to her, I can stretch further and help more. It's amazing.”

“Keltie does distract me from what’s going on,” said Klein. “She is such a beautiful creature.”

Solow says they will continue therapy sessions with Keltie, especially ones that improve Klein’s weight-bearing strength and range of motion.

“We did some treatments the other day that involved brushing and grooming Keltie, which improved Klein’s grip strength and increased her functional range of motion in her hand,” said Solow. “Even petting Keltie has benefits – for them both.

“It's very moving to watch Keltie and Klein greet each other after a week apart and start bonding again,” said Solow. “The energy in the room changes immediately. When they are together and Klein can tolerate the exercises that will improve her mobility, it’s like there is magic in the room.

“We call that magic Keltie!”

To learn more about Pascack Valley Medical Center's Therapy and Rehabilitation Services visit

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