Sign In

Therapy dog wins UCLA’s award

April 2, 2020

Glittering gold confetti fell from the ceiling as Izzy the husky wobbled up to a red podium to claim the nationwide title of “Pet of the Year.”

But Izzy seemed more excited to receive the prize: a wag-bag from BarkBox, which contained chew toys and treats.

Izzy, a therapy dog at UCLA Health’s People-Animal Connection, won two titles Dec. 13 on “Good Morning America’s” inaugural Pet of the Year Awards: “Underdog” and the top prize, “Pet of the Year.”

Around 800 viewers submitted images and descriptions of their pets for the contest, according to Izzy’s handler, Melissa Foster. The contestants were then separated into categories such as “Most Instagr-animal,” “Most Tail-ented,” “Underdog” and “Odd Couple.”

Izzy’s competitors included other dogs, cats, a hedgehog, a goose and a miniature horse named Waffles.

For Foster, it was a surprise to even receive one award, but they left the competition with two.

The “Underdog” award was given to Izzy because she was born with hip dysplasia but still serves the community as a therapy dog, Foster said.

Hip dysplasia occurs when a dog’s hip ball and socket do not properly align, which can cause intense pain. Izzy does not walk like a normal dog, and when she runs, her two hind legs come together so she hops like a bunny, Foster said.

“I almost named her Bunny – half husky, half bunny,” Foster said.

Izzy won “Pet of the Year” for her service as a therapy dog with PAC at UCLA Health, according to “Good Morning America.”

UCLA Health’s PAC links hospitals with therapy dogs in order to bring comfort and healing to patients. The program has 75 therapy-animal teams who volunteer at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, according to PAC Coordinator Kunal Wahi.

Foster said Izzy’s disability might make her more compassionate toward sick people. It was one of the reasons that Foster made Izzy a therapy dog.

“Izzy is so sweet and loving, and she has the perfect temperament to provide love and healing to the patients at UCLA,” said Wahi, who introduced the pair to the program.

When Izzy and other therapy dogs enter the hospitals, their demeanors change, Foster said.

For example, when Foster puts Izzy’s therapy scarf on before Foster is ready to leave the house, Izzy will bark and act excited. She even recognizes the word “hospital,” Foster said.

“(The dogs) know they’re there to give comfort and love to the patients,” Foster said. “I fell in love with that myself, and I know (Izzy) enjoys it just as much.”

Seeing the happiness that Izzy brings to patients is what makes volunteering worth it, she said.

“I always tell people it’s the two smiles you get,” Foster said. “As soon as (Izzy) walks in, there’s a smile on the patient’s face. You get an even bigger smile when Izzy’s allowed on her bed. It’s a smile and then an even bigger smile.”

This was the first competition that 5-year-old Izzy and her handler have ever entered. Foster learned of the awards during the first week of October and applied on a whim. During mid-October, the producers reached out to Foster to announce that Izzy was in the running to be a finalist and to request more photos, she said.

Contestants didn’t know the results until the announcement on the show, and both Izzy and Foster were startled when the hosts announced: “Izzy the husky!”

“She has that look like ‘Me? Who, me?’” Foster said.

“Good Morning America” referred to Izzy as “Izzy the husky” throughout the filming of the show. Now when Foster is around the house, she reminds Izzy of the competition by calling her the same, which she said makes Izzy happy.

Izzy also enjoys walking on the beach minutes from her house, chasing a squeaky tennis ball and eating carrots and cucumbers when she’s not providing therapy at the hospital.

“I’m looking to get her into any other contest or things, because she loves it, and I love it, and she’s a cutie,” Foster said.

Register your Dog Schedule a Visit

  • Recent News

    Students Get Therapy Dog

    When middle school students return to class on Jan. 11, they’ll find a new face at the door: Daisy. Daisy is a therapy dog and the personal pet of Rob Kreger, principal of the Rock L. Butler Middle School. The five-year-old golden retriever is not a school pet or mascot, but rather a working dog […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dogtor

    Last March, Caroline Benzel, a third-year medical student, began to notice the stress and discomfort her nurse friends were feeling from the pressures of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “[Personal protective equipment] can be really rough on the skin,” Benzel, 31, tells PEOPLE. Benzel and her 3-year-old Rottweiler, Loki (who’s also a therapy dog) hatched a […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dog Pups

    When Stanley the miniature fox terrier’s owner passed away, the little dog started a ‘paw-some’ new role – bringing puppy love to some of the Gold Coast’s oldest residents. After Carinity Cedarbrook Diversional Therapist Julianne Staff adopted Stanley, he began visiting the aged care community at Mudgeeraba as a therapy dog. Therapy dogs help to […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dogs At School

    Those who own a dog can attest to their ability to lift mood, improve stress and bring joy by simply being there, unanswering, seemingly all-knowing and always delighted to see you.  Therapy animals are known for their calm and comforting nature, giving people a way to relax, de-stress and interact with a loving pet.  They […]

    Read more

    Wonder Dog

    For those of us with dogs, we know they quickly become major parts of the family. You live for and care for just like one of your own children, and one dog right here in Oklahoma City is beating the odds, and helping others recover as a therapy dog, despite all of the issues he’s […]

    Read more

    Scott And Charlie

    Cherokee Middle School students may do a little more “doodling” second semester starting this month (January), but also will improve their attendance marks because of a special attraction at the school, courtesy of Principal Scott Aden. Aden, an effective, caring administrator, has acquired and will house and handle a young female Golden Doodle (Charlie) that […]

    Read more

    Hope For Veterans

    E5 Therapy opened in April with a different way to help veterans in therapy. They offer canine-assisted therapy along with talk therapy to veterans and veterans’ families in Solano County. Owner Matthew Decker is a licensed clinical social worker in Northern California, focused on helping veterans achieve their mental health goals. Along with his team, […]

    Read more