Dog to the Rescue

April 21, 2017

What do baseball teams and dogs have in common? At first glance, it might seem like an unlikely pairing. But for the players on the University of North Carolina’s baseball squad, the sport wouldn’t be the same without their furry friend.

In December 2016, a golden retriever named Remington, or Remi for short, was brought to the diamond by the team’s Athletic Trainer Terri Jo Rucinski, MA, LAT, ATC, PT, CSCS. According to an article for The Daily Tar Heel: 

“[Remington] is the only service facility dog in the [Atlantic Coast Conference], and is one of a handful in the country.”

So what makes this dog so special? Besides the fact that he knows more than 100 commands, both written and spoken, Remi is present for the baseball team at every game. He grabs water for the athletes and has even taken a ball to the umpire for the opening pitch of a few contents. In a video released by UNC and reported by Spectrum News, Rucinski states that Remi also knows how to high-five and fist bump. He does this with the players at the beginning of games and whenever they may need a pick-me-up.

While Remi’s actions on the field certainly help increase player motivation and excitement, it is in the athletic training room that he really shines. In the video, Rucinski says that Remi’s full title is “psychiatrist, medical alert, facility rehabilitation service dog.” And he has certainly earned this title, accompanying Rucinski to a physical therapy clinic each day, later moving to Boshamer Stadium to work with UNC’s baseball team.

When in the physical therapy clinic or athletic training room, Remi’s job is to act as a stress reliever for injured athletes. As any athlete who has been injured knows, a physical injury can become mentally and emotionally taxing pretty quickly. This is where Remi comes in—he has a sixth sense for players with higher anxiety levels, bonding with them to help keep up the faith that they can recover.

“We’ve had some kids who have had surgery this year, and they seem to have turned the corner quickly emotionally, which hadn’t really happened in the past,” Rucinski told The Daily Tar Heel. “I like to think [Remi] had something to do with that.”

“He’s great,” echoed pitcher Brett Daniels. “Surgery is not fun, and rehab’s not fun, but he’s there to lay with you during your exercises, and it’s really nice to have him there.”

Remi’s additional responsibilities include playing with the athletes and giving them company while they go through their rehabilitation exercises. But his usefulness goes beyond purely being present, as Remi is also able to brace someone getting out of a chair. He even has the ability to retrieve items from the refrigerator, both opening and closing the door by himself.

Even players who are not injured have benefited from Remi’s presence. Sometimes, having a bad day can affect a player’s performance, whether in practice or during a game. Taking some time to interact with Remi after a taxing day can turn any negative attitude on its head.

“If [the players] have a bad day, if they’re not doing well in class one day, they have an exam, they’ll come down and just kind of play with him,” Rucinski said in the video for Spectrum News. “I think he’s a calming influence.”