That’s how Terri Jo Rucinski, staff athletic trainer for UNC baseball, feels when REMINGTON, the baseball team’s golden retriever, is around.
REMINGTON is no ordinary dog. Not only does he spell his name in all caps, but he responds to over 100 commands. He’s able to open refrigerators and read words.
That’s only the start of his talent.
According to Rucinski, REMINGTON is the only service facility dog in the ACC, and is one of a handful in the country.
It is something that won’t be seen at other schools’ games. In the sea of Carolina Blue baseball uniforms and in the dusty dugout, a handsome helper is always there to give players water or pick up a ball, his full, fluffy tail dancing in the air as he trots.
Rucinski, who is also the clinical coordinator for the physical therapy clinic at Campus Health, said that REMINGTON has been by the side of injured players every step of the way.
“We’ve had some kids who have had surgery this year, and they seem to have turned the corner quickly emotionally, which hadn’t really happened in the past,” she said. “I like to think he had something to do with that.”
Dr. Jeni Shannon, a sport psychologist for the UNC Athletic Department, works with athletes in their psychological needs. Animals like REMINGTON, she said, can aid greatly in athletes’ recovery.
“One of the most difficult things an athlete can go through is injury,” she said.
But having an animal around like REMINGTON could be the way of the future for the psychological recovery of athletes who have gone through painful injuries.
It was no easy task for the 2-year-old golden retriever to earn such a title. For over two years, REMINGTON underwent hours of training with various groups to earn his spot with UNC baseball.
REMINGTON began his training at three days old and once he was old enough, he was brought to a socialization center for puppies. At around 14 weeks old, he was brought to a prison in West Virginia for training as part of the paws4prisons program.
Rucinski said the program helps the puppies because the prisoners help them learn their commands and get experience meeting different humans. But it also helps the prisoners find a way to give back to the world.
Last spring, REMINGTON was brought to UNC to begin his training specifically for the baseball team. But it was not until December 2016 that he was ready to begin his career with the team officially.
“It all started when the baseball athletes wanted to take some puppies from the paws4people puppy socialization center here to the hospital to visit some children,” Rucinski said. “But the hospital wouldn’t allow the puppies to visit because they hadn’t been trained. So thus started the whole process.”
REMINGTON is just as busy as his owner. He and Rucinski start their day at the physical therapy clinic in the morning where REMINGTON helps out with patients and occasionally takes a quick cat (well, dog) nap.
Later on, the pair makes their way to Boshamer Stadium to treat the baseball players where REMINGTON roams as he pleases and tends to the athletes.
In his rookie season, he has already gained a great deal of attention and love from athletes and fans alike.
“He’s great,” pitcher Brett Daniels said. “Surgery is not fun and rehab’s not fun, but he’s there to lay with you during your exercises and it’s really nice to have him there.”
Because, of course, REMINGTON is not just there as a water boy or a ball boy.
Rucinski said he tends to bond well with individuals with higher anxiety levels. Those individuals also tend to do his command sets with him and generally interact with him more often.
“In psychiatric medicine and sports psychology, there’s a huge piece that’s been missing for a long time, and having an animal helps tremendously,” Rucinski said.
Shannon also said that for the community as a whole, it is important to end the stigma about mental illness, as it is just like an illness of any other part of the body. Progress is being made with the inclusion of animals like REMINGTON.
“I think there are going to be more trends toward moving to having a therapy dog in a clinical setting,” said Rucinski.
“I’m excited to see what the future holds.”
In just the few months that Rucinski has been with REMINGTON, she said she has already gotten numerous calls from other university athletics asking about him in hopes of creating similar animal programs for their athletes.
“I think that REMINGTON’s made a difference. You know, if they have had a rough day or had a bad exam, they just come play with him,” she said.
“It’s hard to stay upset when he’s around.”
Reporting contributed by Chapel Fowler