Many of us have dogs. In fact, 44 percent of Americans have a canine family member. And why not? They are great companions, help us get more exercise and even improve our mental health.
There are some pups, though, who do even more than that. And we’re proud to know dozens of these “top dogs”!
Among our organization’s team of 4,000+ volunteers are more than 70 therapy dogs. These specially trained pooches visit many people at our hospitals and clinics. They help visitors who need comfort, patients who need mental health support and children who need someone to read to.
With the many hats that these dogs and their humans wear, there is no shortage of memorable stories they have to tell. Here, seven of our pet therapy teams reflect on the most impactful experiences they’ve had while volunteering thus far:
Jackson and I are part of DayBridge’s “pet therapy” session, which occurs weekly and was built around Jackson. It involves 5 to 10 people sitting in a circle with me, Jackson and the program facilitator. We spend the time discussing pets and the therapeutic value of animals. While patients talk, Jackson visits each person. He seems to know and seek out patients who are struggling.
One of the most rewarding pet therapy sessions we had was when a patient who had not spoken for many days in treatment was able to open up with the company of Jackson and share their story. I am so grateful that Jackson can have such a profound impact on patients and help them on their journey toward better mental health.
Told by owner Paula M.
When we first started volunteering for pet therapy, I saw a woman walking down the hospital hallway trying to control her crying without luck. I wasn’t as confident then, and I wondered how to handle the situation. Rocco, however, took over without hesitation.
He must have seen her at the same time I did. He ran to her, pulling me behind. The woman stopped and looked very surprised, still crying profusely. She asked me if she could pet my dog. I said yes, stood back and let Rocco work his magic. The woman bent down and Rocco leaned against her leg. She slowly stood up after a while and, although still crying, she was smiling a beautiful smile. We never said a word to each other except for when she asked if she could pet Rocco. But she was obviously more relaxed, and her face said it all. We didn’t take away her sadness, but we did provide her a bit of comfort in an otherwise difficult time in her life.
Told by owner Ardie A.
It was a Wednesday evening and Murray and I were walking down the hallway at the hospital when a woman asked if we could stop by to see her husband. He had just arrived and was in a coma. The woman told us her husband loved dogs and asked if I would put Murray in the bed next to him. I said sure, of course I could do that. While Murray cuddled next to her husband, the woman and I chatted for about 10 minutes. Then, Murray and I were off to visit others.
It was at least two years later that Murray and I were walking down the same hall again when a woman came rushing toward us. She said she was sure I wouldn't remember her because we see so many people at the hospital, but she wanted us to know that a few years ago, Murray had visited her husband when he was in a coma. I did of course remember the incident, and she told us her husband had come out of the coma the next morning and hadn’t stopped talking since about the dog that came to visit him!
Told by owner Mary
I was on my route making hospital visits when a man dressed in surgery scrubs approached. We exchanged greetings and he reached to pet Stella. The next thing I knew, he was sitting on the floor with her and tears were rolling down his cheeks. He said, “I am a surgeon and have had a terrible day. Here you are. You and your dog are angels!”
Silence followed as he remained sitting on the floor solemnly hugging and petting her. After a few minutes, and with his head still nestled in her hair, the man said, “The only place I would rather be right now is home with my family and dogs. You and your dog were meant to be here. Thank you.” He rose to his feet and quietly moved on.
Told by owner Dave
Told by owner Carol
Ellie and I were in the hospital waiting for the elevator. A mother and her daughter, who was in a wheelchair, were also there. The 6-year-old girl appeared to have cerebral palsy and was struggling with her movements. She was looking at Ellie, and I offered to let her meet my dog.
As this young girl continued to pet Ellie, you could see her muscles relax and become more flexible. This was one of my first encounters with a child as a pet therapy volunteer, and it nearly brought me to tears to see the change in this little girl’s body.
Told by owner Maggie B.
It was Mister’s and my very first volunteer shift on our own, and I was a little nervous. We had been to the hospital a couple of times already, but always with another volunteer.
We found our way to the room of the first patient we would be visiting, and I paused at the door, took a deep breath and knocked. A young woman came to greet us and instantly gasped. She was so thrilled to see my dog! "Are you here to see my mom?” she asked, grinning ear-to-ear. “She will be so excited! We couldn't wait for you guys to get here!"
Mister and I walked in and the patient was in her chair, also with a big smile on her face. My nerves went away instantly just by seeing how excited they both were. Both the patient and her daughter kept saying "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I can't believe it.”
I placed a fresh towel on the patient’s lap and put Mister in place for his visit. The patient couldn’t stop smiling as she petted him with tears in her eyes. Meanwhile, her daughter was pulling up a photo on her phone. Sure enough, the patient had had a dog who had recently passed and he looked exactly like my Mister. Both said it was a sign that we came to visit, and they began sharing stories and more photos.
As we were leaving, the patient said that Mister’s visit had made her entire stay. She explained how upset she had been because she had to stay in the hospital longer, but that she was so happy now she did because she got to meet Mister.
I have to say I couldn't have asked for a better first visit on my first volunteer shift at Methodist Hospital. Since then, we have had almost every patient say as we are leaving, "You just made my day, Mister" or "I'm so happy I got to meet you, Mister." I am so glad we started this journey of volunteering and I look forward to continuing with it as long as possible.
Interested in joining our pet therapy program as a volunteer?
Many opportunities are available. These include visiting patients, helping out with mental health services or participating in reading programs for kids and others. Check out what specific volunteer positions are available at:
- Amery Hospital & Clinic in Amery, Wisconsin
- Hudson Hospital & Clinic in Hudson, Wisconsin
- Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, Minnesota
- Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Minnesota
- Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota
- Westfields Hospital & Clinic in New Richmond, Wisconsin
- HealthPartners clinics across the Twin Cities metro area
- Park Nicollet clinics across the Twin Cities metro area
You can also volunteer to visit with our hospice patients wherever they may call home.
Unique volunteer opportunities, including pet therapy, are available with: