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How this four-legged therapist is helping patients heal without saying a word

“She astounds me on a daily basis."
Posted at 12:20 PM, Oct 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-08 18:41:57-04

NEW KENT COUNTY, Va. -- The serenity and slow pace of Hingham Drive have met their match.

The New Kent neighborhood is welcoming a new addition who speaks her mind. Cindee and Myron Rolston adopted Clara the lab/golden retriever mix in September.

“With our older dog, it has definitely changed. Things were mellow and quiet. Now. Not so much. She adds a lot of excitement to the day,” said Cindee.

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The two-year-old is setting in at home, but Clara is always ready for a road trip.

Five days a week, Cindee and her sidekick set off. Not to the dog park or doggy daycare.

The pair has far more important tasks ahead. Dr. Cindee Rolston and Clara work at Sheltering Arms Institute in Goochland.

Clara is the rehab facility's newest employee and first on four legs.

“You can’t help but look at her and feel energy and that positivity and our patients absolutely respond to that," said Dr. Rolston.

Patients here face tall odds. Strokes and brain injuries are common. A simple game of toss can cement a bond without saying a word.

“I think one of the things that people notice about Clara is her determination," said Dr. Rolston.

Dr. Rolston says her new colleague trained for nearly nine months at the non-profit Canine Companions for Independence.

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“It is not just feeling good. There are real demonstrable differences. Real improved outcomes from having a dog on your team," said Dr. Rolston.

The precocious pup's new career at Sheltering Arms Institute should span a decade.

Occupational therapists like Jessi Lowman see firsthand how Clara can heal on the outside and in.

"My patients love her," said Jessi. “As soon as she jumped into his lap you could tell his face lit right up. He was just so happy.”

Parnell White from Bottoms Bridge suffered a terrible fall a few weeks ago. The grandmother's recovery has been slow.

“She has a caring and loving personality," said Parnell. “Plus she’s a beautiful dog.”

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White is making strides step by step with Clara by her side. What makes their relationship so special? White has been terrified of dogs for thirty years.

"You forget all about that because you're in the now. And you feel good and happy," said White.

The new colleague at Sheltering Arms Institute doesn't require a paycheck and never complains. However, she may beg for the occasional ear scratch or belly rub.

“She astounds me on a daily basis," said Dr. Rolston.

Clara the new facility dog is still learning to navigate the halls at Sheltering Arms Institute. But she's already found a permanent home in patient's hearts.

“I’ve never seen a dog this loving. None," said White. "It is like she wants to comfort me and love me.”

Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.

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