A kiss and a wag: Marty brings comfort and smiles to patients at Martha & Mary | Kitsap Week

Marty, a Great Pyrenees, visits patients at Martha & Mary - Erin Jennings
Marty, a Great Pyrenees, visits patients at Martha & Mary
— image credit: Erin Jennings

A polar bear seemed to be wandering the hallway.

Upon closer inspection, the majestic animal with the white fur wasn’t a polar bear at all, but rather Marty, a Great Pyrenees dog.

Marty and his owner, Jim Strycharski, visit patients once or twice a week at Martha & Mary in Poulsbo.

When you move down the hall with Marty, you feel like you are with a celebrity. People stop and chat. Exclamations of “So handsome” and “What a fine dog” are heard. One patient compares Marty to Rock Hudson.

Strycharski and his wife Cristi rescued the gentle giant in Montana when Marty was six months old. Originally, the Great Pyrenees breed guarded sheep. Their massive size and thick fur coat provided protection from wolf attacks. But don’t be fooled by their size; Great Pyrenees dogs are known for their kind disposition.

The Strycharskis read articles on how pet visits can benefit the elderly. Studies have shown that petting a dog helps lower a patient’s blood pressure. Just a short visit with a good-natured canine increases endorphin levels in patients, providing a natural painkiller.

“We had other [Great  Pyrenees], but none like Marty. We knew he would bring a smile,” Strycharski said.

On a recent trip down the hallway, Marty walked past a woman with an oxygen sensor. She used a walker and was slowly moving as her caregiver measured her progress.

“Just seeing that dog raises your oxygen level,” the nurse said.

Strycharski knocked on patients’ doors. “Care for a puppy visit?” he asked.

Most people take him up on his offer and he and Marty enter the room.

The visit is brief. Just long enough for a few head pats and ear rubs.

Some residents aren’t able to reach out to pet Marty as a result of a stroke or illness. Instead, Strycharski takes the resident’s hand and places it in Marty’s thick fur.

One patient, Mary, couldn’t speak or touch Marty on her own. As Strycharski placed her clenched hand onto Marty’s fur, Mary’s eyes widened.


She began to verbalize, obviously pleased at the sensation.

“That’s the most I’ve heard you say, Mary,” Strycharski said.

And while the attention is focused on the 90-pound canine, the true hero of this story is Strycharski.

Strycharski, a Kitsap resident for 45 years, works the swing shift at Bangor. On his time off from work, he probably has a laundry list of items to do. For no other reason than “just because,” Strycharski spends an hour once or twice a week walking Marty on his rounds at Martha & Mary.

Strycharski makes a special point to call each patient by name. He inquires about their day. He remembers details from previous visits and asks specific questions.

He comments to one patient from England about the upcoming royal wedding.

“I don’t know when it is,” she said. “I haven’t received my invitation.”

He ends each visit with a pat on the shoulder, or a touch on the arm.

“We’ll be back,” he tells them.

With that, he leads Marty out of the room and into the next one as they work their way down the hall.

“Even if we just spend a couple of minutes,” Strycharski said. “It seems to help brighten their day.”


Dogs visits are welcome at Martha & Mary, but before you swing by with your pooch, there are a few things you need to know. First of all, your dog needs to be social and comfortable with strangers. You also need proof that the animal is up to date with shots. For more information, contact Susan Rauch at (360) 394-4021.

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