Sitting around 3-feet tall with blonde curls and wide eyes, CVMC’s
two new volunteers are magnets for affection and eager to bring comfort,
joy and affection while making rounds at the hospital. Bringing smiles
to the faces of patients, visitors and staff, this pair of Goldendoodles
(part standard poodle and part golden retriever) are trained pet therapy
dogs, who, along with their owners/handlers, seem to enjoy having a “job”
to do as part of our compassionate caregiver team.
Pat and Dick Pohar moved from Union County to Newton’s Abernethy
Laurels retirement community last year with 8 year-olds, Brandy and Maggie.
Watching as they stopped to sit next to a patient, tilting their heads
and offering a paw, Pat said, ”The dogs lighten the atmosphere and
just seem to know when people need a furry face to cheer them up.”
Therapy Dogs International (TDI), both dogs and handlers must demonstrate good temperaments, complete
extensive training and be evaluated for requirements unique to a hospital
environment in which therapy dogs work.
“CVMC therapy pets are certified by TDI to ensure the dogs’
behavior, training, temperament and response is appropriate with the equipment
and people found in hospitals,” said Shirley McKee, Pet Therapy
Evaluator with TDI. “The dogs demonstrate that they can handle sudden
loud or strange noises; are not frightened by wheel chairs, IV poles or
if approached by patients walking with canes; these volunteers have met
strict guidelines to show they can get along with patients of all ages.”
Shirley, a long-time advocate for the pet therapy program at CVMC, has
helped develop the program in Hickory and cites a growing body of evidence
that supports the positive therapeutic impact patients find by interacting
with these special dogs. Her beloved Portuguese Water Dog, Katie, was
one of the first pets to join the program, which now also includes Shirley’s
second therapy dog Luna, also a Portuguese Water Dog.
This furry and friendly team of volunteers is overseen by Heather Bissell,
CVMC Recreation Therapist. “There are so many benefits from visiting
with our pet therapy dogs. It seems like they make patients forget why
they are here,” said Heather.
The pets visit most units in the hospital, depending on the comfort level
of both dog and handler. From patients receiving chemotherapy at the cancer
center to overnight patients missing their pet at home during a hospital
stay, these friendly dogs are greeted enthusiastically throughout the
halls of the medical center.
“I’ve seen pet therapy dogs offer encouragement and inspire
social interaction for patients as they recover from a stroke,”
said Heather. “Another dog helped calm a patient with Down’s
Syndrome who was frightened by the tightening blood pressure cuff. These
dogs just seem to read people and respond to their needs on a unique super
To find out more about obedience training and TDI certification, those
interested in becoming volunteers with the pet therapy program at CVMC
are encouraged to begin by contacting the Catawba Valley Obedience Club.