Sometimes she’ll snore when you’re talking. Once in a while she’ll lick your face. But Gertrude will never suggest you’re a narcissist or point out your obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
Gertrude, an English bulldog, loves you just the way you are.
“She accepts everyone,” said psychologist Harris Stratyner of the 8-year-old dog who accompanies him to therapy sessions at his Yonkers and Manhattan offices. “Gertrude puts patients at ease because she doesn’t know what your diagnosis is, and she doesn’t care. You’re a human being.”
With research pointing to the healing power of animal-assisted therapy, specially trained dogs have found their way into an increasing number of hospitals and nursing homes. It’s less common to find a doctor who brings his dog to work simply because she’s a kind-hearted soul.
But Stratyner, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, discovered early on that Gertrude — who is not a certified therapy animal — had a unique capacity for empathy.
“She’s just a very sensitive dog,” he said.
Psychologist Harris Stratyner, left, brings English bulldog Gertrude to a meeting in Yonkers with patient John Black. Many patients welcome the dog in therapy sessions. (Photo: Tania Savayan/The Journal News)
Gertrude, named after Stratyner’s Aunt Gertie — a compliment, he said — was about two years old when she started riding to work with him in his convertible.
“She very funny,” said Stratyner. “It could be the nastiest person on the FDR Drive and they look at Gertrude and start laughing.”
Some patients have no interest in interacting with Gertrude, and she knows to stay away. Others welcome the affection a dog like her can provide.
Once, when a young patient struggling with drug addiction was sitting in Stratyner’s office, Gertrude jumped up and put her head on the woman’s lap. She began to cry as she hugged the dog. “What it helped to do is she started talking, she started opening up for the first time,” said Stratyner.
Another patient, John Black, said spending time with Gertrude during a therapy session stirs up something deep inside. “There’s a sentimental level to it,” he said. “It’s like a nice, big Thanksgiving dinner. You have that feeling of joy, and that feeling stays with you.”
Stratyner’s wife, Dr. Lynn Greene, a Yonkers oral surgeon, believes that Gertrude can smile — and that when you scratch her in the right places, she actually grins.
“My wife keeps her in impeccable shape,” added Stratyner. “The thing that kills English bulldogs is they get overweight. Gertrude is not. She’s incredibly svelte. She likes a girlish figure.”
She also likes having a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. But she rarely indulges. After all, she needs to be on top of her game when it’s time to see patients.
“The only time Gertrude ever has to take a Xanax is when fireworks go off,” said Stratyner.