Gilda the Great Dane is getting dressed to visit the children in the Monroe
Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital Pediatric Rehabilitation Services at Vanderbilt Health. She puts on a
T-shirt— covered in signatures from her many fans— and a pink tutu.
She trots down the hallway at Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks, and is stopped
by an employee who wants to give her a kiss. This happens all the time. Gilda
reaches up with her cavernous snout to give her fan a little love back.
Gilda manages to be both a big, lumbering dog and precious, tender caregiver at
the same time. She and her handler, Sarah Rizhaupt, prove that love knows no
bounds: not ability level, or size, or even species.
“She’s amazing, I like the way she interacts with the kids. She’s humble, as big as she is,” said Travis Frierson, whose 10-year-old son Travis Jr. sees Gilda on Mondays at
his pediatric rehabilitation appointments.
Frierson watches as the Great Dane and Rizhaupt get Travis into a coloring
project in the waiting room. Gilda lies serenely while Rizhaupt encourages the
boy to draw a birthday cake on Gilda’s T-shirt. It’s Gilda’s fourth birthday. Travis asks if he can draw on Gilda’s huge, black toenails. No problem. Out comes the yellow marker for a doggy
pedicure. The Dane lifts her huge head to peek at the artist for a moment
before lumping her head right into his lap.
“Loving, very loving personality. She loves kids like Travis. She was lying on
Travis. I’m like, ‘OK, Travis wants to take her home,’” chuckled Frierson, adding “but that’s good.”