Doctor’s Best Friend
Dr. Jeffrey Pinsk and a Boston terrier named Oreo ease patients’ fears
by Jocelyn Murray

Is there an age when we stop dreading visits to the see the doctor? Whether it is a routine annual check-up, or treatment for an illness or other medical condition, most people are usually less than excited to visit what they perceive as a sterile white office, where the anxiety of the unknown awaits them. Is there anything that could possibly make these visits—for all patients, regardless of age—bearable or, better yet, enjoyable?


Dr. Jeffrey Pinsk has shown his patients that there is, and its name is Oreo.


Thanks in large part to Oreo, his family’s Boston terrier, Dr. Pinsk’s patients feel less anxious leading up to their appointments, as well as for the duration of each visit. For the last six years, Dr. Pinsk and Oreo have been working together to create a different type of experience at his Newtown Square internal medicine practice.


“I’ll be in with a patient and I’ll hear all kinds of laughter coming from the waiting room,” says Dr. Pinsk. “Some of the patients come to see Oreo even if they don’t have an appointment; many patients bring him treats and, of course, he loves this.”


He remembers 16 years ago when he first saw another practice using a dog as a therapeutic tool. His initial concerns revolved around legality and risks to his patients’ health, but he quickly saw that having a pet around could improve the practice and enrich the lives of patients.


“There is something very life affirming about dogs, and children and these very sick people would forget their troubles for a minute and would smile and laugh when they saw the dog,” he says. “It was very calming and therapeutic.


“[Oreo’s] favorite is chasing the tennis ball, but not only does he chase it and catch it but he also throws it; he rolls it with his snout, and he will roll the ball to the person so they will play catch. The amazing thing about this dog is that he likes to give everybody a chance to play with him.”


Oreo is simply one component of Dr. Pinsk’s approach to treatment: healing the mind in addition to whatever’s ailing the body.


“I like taking care of the whole patient, not just the parts,” he says. “I treat people, not diseases.”


New Energy

In the six years Oreo has been coming to the office, Dr. Pinsk has seen a significant positive effect on two particular groups of patients: children and the elderly.


“Children who are naturally afraid of doctor’s offices love him,” he says. “It is not so much that their condition improves but that they can be comfortable at the doctor’s office so they can be comfortable talking to the doctor so that the doctor can get more information.”


He has seen similar results in the practices of some of his colleagues who work in the psychiatric field, where dogs work to calm patients down so they can talk freely about their troubles. Additionally, Dr. Pinks says Oreo assists elderly patients in dealing with chronic medical problems and the daily pains linked to aging: “Just the joy they get from seeing the dog and laughing at the dog is therapeutic.”


Furthermore, patients aren’t the only people around the office entertained by Oreo’s antics. Dr. Pinsk has noticed an improvement in the attitudes and energy of his staff as well, which, combined with more at-ease patients, has transformed the practice into a sort of home away from home he had always hoped it would be. For Oreo, according to Dr. Pinsk, hanging out at the office is preferable to roaming an empty house.


“It is extremely healthy for a dog to have a job, and if you don’t give him one he will find one—like eating the living-room furniture,” he says. “So this is his job and he loves his job.”


Oreo’s interacting with patients since the age of 13 weeks has had innumerable benefits for the dog, the patients and the practice itself, with enhanced and expanded relationships between Dr. Pinsk and his patients. In fact, having Oreo around to help has enabled the doctor to connect on deeper, more personal levels with almost anyone who walks through his office door.


“I like the close, personal connection that develops between myself and the patients and their families,” he says. “Many times my friends become my patients and my patients become my friends.”


Unfortunately, for Dr. Pinsk’s three teenage sons, Oreo appears to have become the star of the Pinsk household—even a favorite child, of sorts.


“They know, and it’s true,” says Dr. Pinsk. “[My sons] are seriously jealous of the dog!”