There’s a new breed of specially trained health care volunteers at Ministry Eagle River Memorial Hospital (MERMH) and Howard Young Medical Center (HYMC) in Woodruff, which begs the question … who let the dogs in?
In February, HYMC and MERMH started a pet therapy program. It’s not only doctors and nurses who are visiting patients at the hospital; dogs are, too. Five dogs and their owners currently participate in the volunteer program in Woodruff and Eagle River.
The animals prance proudly through the halls, traveling from room to room visiting patients admitted into the hospital. Once escorted into the room the dog sits at the patient’s bedside. The hope is the dogs presence will create a therapeutic atmosphere that will aid in making the patient’s stay more enjoyable.
“Studies have shown a visit from an animal can help create a therapeutic and healing environment that decreases patient stress,” said Deb Karow, Ministry Howard Young Health Care (MHYHC) vice president of patient care services. “The unconditional affection a dog can provide will hopefully enhance the patient experience.”
Marilyn Bolgioni and her pet therapy dog Buster, a one and a half year-old male Pekingese Bullnese
HYMC Volunteer Marilyn Bolgioni owns Buster, a one and a half year-old male Pekingese Bullnese therapy dog. “Patients are really thrilled when they see Buster walk into the room,” said Bolgioni. “One gentleman had tears of joy in his eyes when Buster sat next to his bed. Perhaps he reminded him of a dog he has, or once had.”
Nancy Diepenbrock and her golden retriever, Quincy, visit several organizations and had a similar experience during a visit with a young patient at another facility. “The little one was two- years- old and totally captivated by the dog,” said Diepenbrock. “Quincy was equally enamored with the youngster. I think we would’ve been welcome in that room 24/7.”
The four-footed therapists also have an effect on staff. “While they’re meant to brighten a patient’s day, we often see our employees interacting with the dogs,” added Becky DeMuth, MHYHC hospital elder life program volunteer coordinator. “It’s also great to see visitors in the lobby or waiting rooms smiling after an encounter with one of our dog therapists.”
While man’s best friend gets the dog’s-eye view, the handlers also benefit from the interaction with a patient. “To be able to share my wonderful dog and bring happiness to others, even if only for a brief smile, is a blessing,” added Diepenbrock.
“All of the focus is on Buster when we enter the patient’s room and I really enjoy the reaction he receives,” said Bolgioni. “The great thing is, Buster takes me around, I don’t take him around.”
Any canine involved in the program must be a certified pet therapy dog which signifies it’s gone through training to ensure patient safety. Marilyn and Buster attended a four-part evaluation to become certified. The training and instruction included a handling portion which tested the dog’s basic good manners and Marilyn’s handling skills. The next step was to see how Buster interacted with residents or strangers on several supervised visits.
pet therapy dog Kegger, a Cairn Terrier
Once a dog achieves pet therapy certified status, the owner attends volunteer orientation at Howard Young Medical Center or Ministry Eagle River Memorial Hospital. The animal and handler each receive an identification badge which includes their picture. A pet therapy dog must remain on a leash at all times while in the hospital.
MERMH and HYMC join several Ministry Health Care hospitals in offering pet therapy. Ministry Saint Michael’s Hospital in Stevens Point, Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital in Weston and Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield offer the program.
For more information on volunteering in Ministry Eagle River Memorial Hospital or Howard Young Medical Center’s pet therapy program, please contact Becky DeMuth at 715.356.8305.