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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 21, 2010

Buddy's a hero and a pal to those in need

 •  Adoptables

By Leslie Kawamoto

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Ron Darby of The Pet Hui films Buddy and Liz Rizzo with a patient at St. Francis Hospice.

Photos courtesy Liz Rizzo

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Buddy and Liz Rizzo are wel- come sights at St. Francis.

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Liz Rizzo's life hasn't been easy. Buddy, her golden retriever, gave her the courage to pick up and leave an abusive relationship.

Even though Liz and Buddy became homeless, that was much better than living in fear. They moved from home to home, whatever was available. Currently, they are living with a family in Kailua.

Even with all her problems, Liz Rizzo continues to have faith in people, with Buddy at her side. This dynamic duo gives comfort to the people who need it the most, the dying, at St. Francis Hospice.

Initially Buddy wasn't trained as a therapy dog. Three years ago, Rizzo noticed that Buddy was very good with patients. While visiting a Veteran's Administration hospital in Sacramento, Calif., "Buddy brought a smile to an injured man's face," Rizzo says. "He also accompanied me when I volunteered at the mental health center. Several patients who were shaking from medication ... or mental conditions, would stop shaking while petting Buddy."

She contacted the Delta Society, an organization that trains therapy and service dogs. Every day, Rizzo worked with Buddy and it paid off. "He was the only dog to graduate out of 100 dogs on the day he tested in Sacramento at the Shriners Children's Hospital," Rizzo says. "The Delta Society backs us with a million dollars of liability insurance when we do a visit. So they want the best dogs."

Every week when they arrive at the hospice center, Buddy literally pulls Rizzo to the patients who need him most; usually it's the ones who are very close to death.

When Buddy approaches the patient, he lowers his head and patiently waits to be petted. Rizzo says Buddy spends only 5 to 10 minutes per patient because they tire easily. As a remembrance, Rizzo gives each patient a photo postcard with a picture of Buddy to keep.

During one visit, Buddy went to a woman's room who had her family gathered around her. She was staring at the ceiling. When Buddy approached, she repeated happily, "My dog is here, my dog is here."

"At hospice, people are so nice. It's a whole different energy there and Buddy picks up on it. He becomes a different dog. He's a kolohe dog at home, but when he gets there, he's focused. I don't have to give him commands. He just knows what he has to do," Rizzo says.

Buddy is the star of "The Pet Hui" show on OC16 this month. He's one of Hawai'i's true heroes.

Besides being a volunteer, Rizzo is a full-time psychology student at Chaminade. Buddy goes with her to class, too. "Buddy even calms down the class. With a petting, everyone feels better afterwards, no matter how stressed they were," laughs Rizzo.

Animal lover Leslie Kawamoto has been with the Advertiser for 19 years, or 133 in dog years. Check out her blog at www.HonoluluAdvertiser.com/Blogs.