Jack & Nova’s Story

Kindness Stays By Your Side

View all animal-assisted therapy stories

When Nova enters a room, people light up at the sight of the 120-pound black Newfoundland dog. As an animal therapist, she needn’t say anything. Her mere presence has a calming effect.
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Nova isn’t a medical expert, she just really knows how to love, says Jack Lee, her owner and trainer.

“People feel at ease when they see and interact with Nova. She opens the door to conversations and to healing.”


Together, Jack and Nova have made a major impact at Solvay Hospice House with their weekly visits over the past few years. Nova has helped hospice patients with her kind and knowing gaze, or by letting someone scratch her head until they peacefully fall asleep. Sometimes it’s the staff or a patient’s loved ones who benefit most.

“It might be a little kid whose grandpa just got diagnosed with stage 4 cancer,” Jack says. “Nova makes a big impact. Her presence lets the parents relax, because they see their kids smile—maybe for the first time since they’ve been there as a family.”

Nova makes a difference in all kinds of situations and settings, Jack says. There was the time an upset employee needed Nova’s help to calm down. Or the time Nova  distracted a family from a painful Red Cross disaster response. And the times, each week, Nova visits children and young adults—many of whom have anxiety or depression—at local schools.

“People feel at ease when they see and interact with Nova,” Jack says. “She opens the door to conversations and to healing.”

This big, long-haired, cuddle-bug of a dog isn’t the only one helping people amid challenging emotional situations. As a social work therapist in training, Jack brings a wise, soft touch to interactions with people at Solvay, as well as a variety of settings such as schools and nursing homes. And as a military veteran who suffered service-connected PTSD, Jack relates to people who’ve suffered trauma and found solace in the presence of animals.

Jack’s past experiences led him down a path of transformation and service. He returned to college and studied the effects of animal therapy across different populations, discovering that there were numerous health benefits for all people, including reductions in anxiety, stress and depression.

“I looked at studies from around the world, in various environments. There wasn’t a place where it didn’t work,” he says.

In many ways, animal-assisted therapy is more than meets the eye. Jack wishes more people in the traditional scientific community would be open to understanding and investigating the therapeutic value of animal relationships.

“It goes beyond a visit with a pet,” Jack says. “People are willing to talk and tell you more when there’s a dog present. Trust develops more quickly.” 

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