A Gentle Giant St. Bernard Brings Comfort to Local Patients

Chinn and Drago
Drago is shown at Penn Highlands DuBois with his owner, Amy Zeiders, and Will Chinn, President of Penn Highlands DuBois.

Television programs and movies have depicted Saint Bernards as dogs that run through snow-filled mountains to rescue stranded climbers; or canines full of energy who find themselves in comical and harrowing situations. At Penn Highlands Healthcare, a Saint Bernard named Drago, whose name was taken from a Rocky movie, is making an impact on the lives of the health system’s patients and employees for the cheer he brings to them.

For the past year, Drago, who is a certified therapy dog, and his owner, Amy Zeiders, have been visiting patients at Penn Highlands Brookville, Penn Highlands Clearfield, Penn Highlands DuBois East and West campuses, Penn Highlands Elk Pinecrest Manor and Penn Highlands Healthcare at Home Adult Day Services. In September, these two dedicated volunteers will begin visiting with patients at Penn Highlands Elk too.

“Our schedule varies at each hospital or location,” explained Mrs. Zeiders. “We visit some hospitals every week, while other sites are on our schedule only twice per month. Once we are at the facility, the time spent with the patients is based on their individual needs.”

Drago is very well trained and impeccably groomed. The 210-pound canine visits Emergency Departments, ICUs, waiting rooms, inpatient units and nursing facilities. He travels from room to room and enjoys everyone. Drago is not permitted to climb on the beds, but his height lends itself well for placement of his head on the beds enabling patients to easily stroke his fur. He will eagerly pose for photos with patients — especially when Mrs. Zeiders says “cheeseburger.”

“Our staff looks forward to when Drago visits Penn Highlands DuBois because the canine-human bond not only lifts the spirits of our patients, but he helps to create a reinvigorated atmosphere that helps to reduce stress and boost morale among staff,” explained William Chinn, President of Penn Highlands DuBois.

“Drago has a great sense of people and their needs,” said Mrs. Zeiders who has been raising St. Bernards for more than 30 years. “He goes to everyone and knows when someone needs some extra attention.”

Drago is one of three Saint Bernards who currently live with Mrs. Zeiders and her husband in Frenchville, Penna. They welcome a new therapy puppy of that breed every three years. For Mrs. Zeiders, having therapy dogs runs in the family. Her mother also traveled to facilities to provide pet therapy with Saint Bernards. She has been raising her own Saint Bernard therapy dogs since 1992. Prior to her retirement from the courts in 2022, Mrs. Zeiders would take her therapy dogs to work to provide comfort to victims in the courtroom.

“Drago and I feel privileged to be able to be part of the healing process for people in our region,” added Mrs. Zeiders.