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Pet Therapy Brings Smiles, Comfort to Patients at Hospice of the Western Reserve

MEDINA, Ohio – Delores Wojtas looks forward to visits from therapy dogs to her room at the Medina facility of the Hospice of the Western Reserve.

On Thursday, she got to pet, hug and snuggle with three canine friends.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said, beaming from her bed as she cuddled her 18-month-old great-granddaughter, Contessa Magnelli, and stroked the soft head of Molly, a shepherd/blue healer herding dog mix with soulful blue eyes.

“Grandma has always had animals. It means a lot for her to be able to visit with them here at Hospice,” said Wotjas’ granddaughter, Lindsey Magnelli.

The therapy pet programĀ is a much-loved volunteer service provided by the non-profit Hospice of the Western Reserve. Patients, family members and staff all benefit from the unconditional love of the animals.

But there aren’t always enough dogs to go around. There are about 10 therapy dogs who visit patients at the Hospice facility, nursing homes and private residences in Medina County, said Marie Jakubiec, volunteer service manager for the Medina site.

So Hospice is looking for more dogs and their human volunteer owners.

“Pet therapy is one of the many ways people can volunteer with our agency,” said Nikki Matala, volunteer recruitment manager for Hospice of the Western Reserve.

“Most people, we find, are animal lovers. The pets give the patients lots of love. It’s also very calming for their family members and the children who are visiting and are stressed and sad,” Matala said.

Right now, the therapy pets are mostly dogs. Occasionally, Hospice will work to arrange a special visit, such as a pig that recently brought smiles to a patient in Summit County.

The Medina facility used to have a bunny named Bob.

“We try to honor patients’ requests,” Matala said.

Therapy dogs must be certified, be insured and have a current shot record and clean bill of health.

Their human owners must attend 16 hours of volunteer education, undergo a criminal background check and take a two-step tuberculosis test.

The pet “parents” said the training for the dogs isn’t difficult.

“It’s basically control and commands,” pet owner Pam Benson said.

Matala said the requirements are meant to ensure that the dogs have a temperament that is a good match for the medical environment. Dogs are brought in ahead of time to make sure they are comfortable with machine noises, hydraulic sounds and loud noises.

Molly’s owner, Marcia Crabtree, said it is important to help the therapy pets adjust to the environment.

“The first time she stepped on one of those rubber mats (under some patients’ beds) she went straight up in the air,” Crabtree said.

But Molly quickly adapted, and she laps up the attention from patients, families and staff.

Crabtree has volunteered with Hospice since 2008 and began working with the pet therapy program four years ago.

She and Molly spend much of their volunteer time visiting local nursing homes.

“She gets petted a lot, she gets hugged. It really brightens her day, too,” Crabtree said.

Ralphie, a giant puddle of fuzzy poodle hair, has been a pet therapy dog for three years. The labradoodle’s potential was recognized by trainers at Gold Star Dog Training in Medina when he was just a puppy.

His owner, Cathy Pronik, said she has a soft spot for Hospice. Both of her parents received Hospice care.

“When I heard about the pet therapy service, I thought, what a nice way to give back,” Pronik said.

Pronik and Ralphie visit the Medina facility once a week.

“He likes the people. He kind of picks up on what’s going on,” Pronik said.

A few months ago, Ralphie came across a family member who was sobbing outside a patient’s room. He immediately went up to her and she started talking to him.

“He stood still and looked into her eyes for five to 10 minutes. It’s like he knew she needed that,” Pronik said.

“They’re intuitive,” Matala said of the dogs. “They know when they’re needed and what is needed from them.”

Hektor, a five-year-old standard poodle, visits the Medina facility every Tuesday.

“He spends as much time with the staff as with the patients,” said his owner, Pam Benson, whose other dog, Oblio – a red poodle – is also a therapy pet.

“Everybody stops to talk to the dog,” Benson said.

Even out and about in Medina, Hektor has his fans.

“I ran into someone at the Farmers Market, and they said, ‘Oh, hi! You’re Hektor’s mom!'” Benson said.

Matala said sometimes the human volunteers get overlooked.

“People get so excited to see the dogs, they forget about the human volunteer. But the dedication of the pet parents is amazing,” she said.

She said Hospice appreciates that all of their volunteers give up their personal time to bring comfort to patients and their families.

“That’s very special. That really touches our hearts,” Matala said.

She said Hospice can always use more therapy pets.

“There’s always a large need for it. It’s a service that people are really excited about,” she said.

She said the presence of the dogs is very calming.

“It’s a really nice way to alleviate stress in a difficult situation. Oftentimes, they’re funny. They give you a good laugh for the day. They make you feel better,” Matala said.

“It gives people something to talk about other than what they’re going through. They can relax, even if it’s just for that moment,” Pronik said.

“You get those moments where you really help somebody,” she said.

For more information about volunteering for the pet therapy program, contact the volunteer team at 216-255-9090.

POSTED ON CLEVELAND.COM

http://www.cleveland.com/medina/index.ssf/2017/03/pet_therapy_brings_smiles_comf.html

 

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