Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Patient Heather Litchfield, 10, is greeted by Ruckus the therapy dog beside her mother Lynn prior to her sports physical at Gwinnett Urgent Care in Suwanee on Thursday. Dr. Ronald Perry provides a relaxed patient oriented atmosphere with assistance from his dog Ruckus.
SUWANEE -- When Myla Gift has to visit the doctor's office, one consolation is she gets to see Ruckus.
Gift, 8, loves animals, but especially Ruckus, who she has known for about two years.
"He doesn't jump up on top of people," she said. "He's well-behaved, doesn't run around all the time."
For Gwinnett Urgent Care and Suwanee Station Dentistry, a joint office owned by husband and wife Ron and Tara Perry, Ruckus is more well-known than any staff member, Ron said. Ruckus, who will be 7 in July, is a chocolate spaniel who serves as a therapy dog for both sides of the office. The Perrys believe having Ruckus around fosters a more comfortable and family atmosphere that calms the nerves of anxious patients.
"When people come in they don't feel well, that's why they're here, they're sick," Ron said. "If Ruckus will come in the room, their whole face just lightens up. They suddenly just start feeling a bit better."
Gift, and her mother, Ashley, agree.
"He probably helps them feel better because they have somebody to talk to," Myla said. "It makes it more fun that there's an animal friend."
Ashley Gift said Ruckus makes it easier for her daughter to visit the doctor's office.
"She doesn't dread coming here, she knows she gets to see him," Ashley said. "It makes it more fun. She asks for him every time we come."
The Gifts aren't alone.
Ron said there was a 4-year-old who visited the office because he had a laceration on his forehead, but he didn't want stitches at all. Typically, the patient is held down by their parents or a physician's assistant while Ron sews up the cut. But this time, Ruckus "earned his Kibble," Ron said.
The patient was put on a bed that lowered to the floor. And while Ron stitched up the two-inch laceration, the boy petted Ruckus, who laid his head on the bed.
For a kid who was "petrified" of even the mention of stitches, Ruckus was the ideal remedy.
"Ruckus" the therapy dog
A chocolate cocker spaniel named Ruckus serves as a therapy dog at a Suwanee doctor's office.
"He didn't cry, we numbed it up, sewed it up, Ruckus sat there the whole time, distracted him completely," Ron said. "The child did not move a muscle."
As a dentist, Tara said Ruckus gives her some validation in the eyes of a youngster at their first checkup.
"They really feel like they connect with me more as a dentist, because I'm a real person, and I have a dog," she said.
Ron has loved to have dogs around for as long as he can remember. He said a family rule is if a dog comes around the house and stays for more than three days, the dog is part of the family.
So it wasn't a big decision about four years ago when the clinic opened, that Ruckus came to work like he was just another family member or colleague.
During construction of the office, which is at 1300 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Ruckus came along every day Ron checked on the progress. The construction workers knew Ruckus just like he was one of them, Ron said.
So as a regular around the office, the effect Ruckus might have on a patient lasts long after one doctor's visit, Ron said.
"If you have a good experience at the doctor, you're going to take your medicine, you're going to trust what the doctor is doing for you," Ron said. "It helps to establish a relationship between the patient and the doctor, and when you bring the dog into the picture, no matter if it's urgent care or primary care of any sort, specialty, it helps to establish that relationship with the physician."
Ruckus has earned a therapy dog certification, although he prefers not to wear the vest that came with it. Ron trained Ruckus himself, and the dog knows he's not invited to see a patient unless he has permission.
Some patients are allergic, or simply don't like dogs, so both doctors ask each patient at their first visit if having a dog around is OK. If not, Ruckus goes back to his bed in a back office of the clinic.
Patients' fear or anxiety of dogs was Tara's biggest worry when the thought of him coming routinely was first offered. In fact, Ron said when a state inspector visited to certify the clinic, Tara called during the visit and gasped about the inspector's reaction to Ruckus being there.
"She's sitting here petting him the whole time," Ron told his wife on the phone. "I had to actually give her the phone so she could tell my wife it's fine, there's nothing wrong with having a dog in a clinic."
It's a new experience though, for Ron, who worked in an emergency room for six years, where dogs weren't allowed. Before that, Ron was a forensic toxicologist. In his opinion, the sporting breeds of dogs are best suited for a private practice like this, because they're well-behaved, intelligent and can be well-trained to follow commands.
Therapy dogs at doctors' offices are rare, Ron said, but not uncommon.
When he was in college, he knew of a plastic surgeon who brought a basset hound, Max, to work. The plastic surgeon occasionally used Max to his advantage if someone was unsure about getting their eyes done, Ron said. So the plastic surgeon brought Max around and said, "You want to look like that?"
That kind of story is why that doctor is still memorable to Ron, nearly 30 years later.
"Of all the doctors I've worked with, how many do I remember? Not many," he said. "Why do I remember him? He had the dog."