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Rusty the dog sits on a chair with students smiling by him

George (left), with dog Rusty, and students Julie Semenchuk and Annie Gong.

Reflections on Rusty, the unofficial mascot of the Bannatyne campus

UPDATE Feb. 19, 2020 – Today, many Winnipeggers learned of the passing of Rusty, the therapy dog, who was a frequent visitor to both UM campuses as well as hospitals in the city. He was a comfort to many in the UM community, including UM staff and students, and will be missed. We thank his owner George Ames for bringing Rusty to so many venues and allowing people in need to receive some positive vibes in the midst of sadness and grief. Rusty’s influence inspired many, including the writer of this account from 2018, reproduced here in Rusty’s memory:

I learned who Rusty was during my first week of medical school. Unbeknownst to me, the minor (maybe even major) celebrity apparently visited the Brodie atrium quite frequently and I still recall the first day I spotted the therapy-dog. I was leaving the student lounge with one of my classmates and we came upon the cutest and fluffiest dog ready to attend to patient care. Dressed professionally in glasses, bandana and nametag, he was sitting tall and proud in the atrium, ready to provide some much needed therapy to students in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences. And as always, his equally friendly and kind owner, George, accompanied him.  

Rusty the dogGeorge and Rusty’s story is both admirable and inspiring!

Rusty has been a certified pet therapy dog for almost 10 years. It was a good friend’s illness that first brought Rusty to the hospital, but a passion to make other’s smile kept him coming back. Since Rusty’s initial visit, he became a long-standing member of the highly regarded St. Boniface Hospital Pet Therapy program run by their Volunteer Services Department. Indeed, Rusty and George were honoured in a ceremony last year by the hospital, after they received the prestigious Senate 150 Volunteer Medal from the Canadian Government in Ottawa. Recipients were chosen for outstanding contribution to their community. Rusty and George had worked over 2,000 hours at various care facilities and often with very ill patients who quickly came to love visits from Rusty.

Rusty’s clientele includes patients, families, students, doctors and other health care professionals. If Rusty is stationed in the entrance of a hospital, patients have a reason to leave their room and come down to say hi. As nurses and doctors leave or start their shifts, they can take reassurance knowing that at least Rusty’s covering. As dentistry, pharmacy and medical students cram for their exams, they can get a breath of fresh air and relieve some stress with a few pats of Rusty’s fur. Rusty has also recently been helping students like me in the Max Rady College of Medicine raise money for graduation celebrations by lending himself to our marketing materials, acting as our “poster dog”. The support and enthusiasm both Rusty and George have given us is more than we could ever ask for!

Now in my fourth and final year at the Bannatyne campus, I’ve seen both Rusty and George many times, and I reflect on what their kindness and dedication means to me and the common goals they share with myself and my classmates. George and Rusty remind us that something great can come from the saddest of events and that life is all about perspective.

They remind us that through all the overnight shifts, late night studying, and seemingly endless exams, we are supported. Just like George and Rusty, we are giving our time in an effort to make people’s lives better and have them leaving the hospital with a wider smile then when they first arrived.


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2 comments on “Reflections on Rusty, the unofficial mascot of the Bannatyne campus

  1. Kyla

    I’m so saddened to hear this. Whenever I brought my daughter to her Type 1 Clinic apt at St. Boniface, Rusty was always there, sitting on his chair, happy to see us. What a comfort he was to so many. Over the Rainbow Bridge you go….say hi to my Buddy 🙂

  2. Odette

    My Dad passed at St. B last June. One of the last pictures I have is with Dad and Rusty. He loved dogs. Thanks to both for your service! Found memories were created where little hope remained. I trust Rusty will be remembered at the St. B quarterly memorial services for those that have passed.

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