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Local Therapy Dog Inducted into Animal Hall of Fame

Sammy the therapy dog was recently honored by the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association’s Hall of Fame for the volunteer work he does with owner Nancy Turner.

A regular visitor to Saint Peter's University Hospital has made a name for himself, despite being small and quiet.

Sammy, a Redtick-Coonhound mix is a certified therapy dog who, along with his owner, Nancy Turner of Somerset, visit patients at the hospital.

His volunteer work at Saint Peter's, along with visits to special education classes and senior centers has earned him a spot in the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association's Hall of Fame.

Sammy was inducted on March 4. He has a shiny gold medal that he wears around his neck to prove it.

"The New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association honors the state's bravest, most compassionate and affectionate animals in its annual Animal Hall of Fame awards," a press release from the hospital said. "More than 80 animals, including cats, dogs, horses and birds, have been honored since the hall’s creation in 1996."

During a recent visit to the hospital, where Sammy and Turner visit patients on the oncology and pediatric oncology floors at least once a week, Turner said that Sammy came from very humble beginnings.

Found running on a highway in Mississippi as a stray, Sammy was eventually taken to the SAVE animal shelter in Princeton.

Turner said one of her dogs had just passed away, and her other dog was deeply in mourning. Another dog had to be brought home.

After traveling to three or four other shelters looking for dogs, in August 2009, she found Sammy.

"As soon as we saw him, we fell in love with him," she said.

Because he was a stray, Sammy's precise age is not known. Turner said her family believes him to be around four years of age.

She trained him herself, starting at the very beginning of 2010. That following March, Sammy passed his test and became certified as a therapy dog through the Therapy Dogs International registrar.

Turner, who is retired, and Sammy spend their days visiting patients at Saint Peter's University Hospital and the hospital's How Lane Clinic, to visit students in the For KEEPS program. They also go to the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and to schools around the area, according to the hospital. 

Turner said that Sammy's visits as a therapy dog are just as helpful to visitors and families as they are to the patients. And nearly everyone who passed Sammy in the halls, including hospital staff, all bent down to say hello and give him a pat.

"People love dogs," Turner said.

Sammy has come a long way for his honor, but from the beginning, he had a kind personality, Turner said.

At his first visit to the vet, his doctor, Lyndon Goldsmith of Park Veterinary Clinic in Highland Park, remarked that Sammy was no ordinary animal, she said.

"You've got an exceptional dog there," she recalled the vet saying.

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