Best Friend Friday: With encouragement from pet dog Honey, heart surgery patient living more active life

Scott Shippy was diagnosed with a leaky mitral valve about 15 years ago, and underwent surgery to repair it in October 2019.

The surgery and his hospital stay at University of Maryland Medical Center were “surprisingly quick,” he recalls. When he was discharged, doctors told him to slowly start walking more and getting more exercise.

He did so with the help and support of Honey, his 10-year-old Maltese-Yorkie mix, who he describes as a “little angel, always by my side.”

“She was a real critical part of my recovery from heart surgery, but also some personal things going on at the time,” Scott said, noting he was also going through a separation around the time of his heart surgery.

“Without her being there, I don’t know what I would’ve been. Not only for the physical aspect, but also the mental aspect and just helping me through recovery of the heart surgery, the rehabilitation that I had to do. I could tell she knew something was wrong and she was just the most loving, caring little 4-pound dog anybody could ever ask for.”

The American Heart Association has long believed in the power of pets. Not only for companionship and the social aspects a pet can bring but also the anecdotal data that needed to be proved further.

A study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association, states owning a dog is linked with living longer and found dog owners were less likely to die from heart disease compared with non-owners.

The study reviewed several decades’ worth of evidence on the relationship between dog ownership and mortality.

During his recovery from surgery, Scott and Honey would go for walks and bike rides, with Honey riding in a basket at the front of his bike.

Once he built up stamina following his surgery, Scott and Honey started participating in fundraising walks, like the Stop Soldier Suicide Challenge and the Greater Maryland Heart Walk.

The pair participated in the 2021 and 2022 Heart Walks and plan to attend the 2023 Heart Walk on Saturday, Oct. 21 at the Maryland State Fairgrounds.


Scott, who lives in York, Pennsylvania, said he would walk and take bike rides with honey before surgery, but he would get tired quickly.

“I was driving back and forth to work in Baltimore, about an hour each way every day,” he recalled. “I’d get home and I was tired from working, and just feeling lethargic, and it just got worse. That’s when my cardiologist said, ‘it’s time we do something.’”

Following his surgery, performed by Dr. James Gammie at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Scott said he was amazed at how much more energy he has.

“It’s unbelievable. I was like ‘Wow, so this is how real people live!’,” he said. “Now, I still get tired sometimes, and it helps to have Honey here, looking at me and saying ‘Hey Dad, come on, I want to go for a walk, let’s go. You’re done working, let’s go.’ It really helps.

“She 100% motivates me. And that drove me to make sure that I was getting better physically and mentally,” Scott said. “She was tremendous, and I don’t think I’d be here if Honey wasn’t a part of that.”