Therapy dogs bring smiles, relieve stress
Rhinelander’s Ministry St. Mary’s Hospital is going to the dogs. Therapy dogs, that is.
“An employee approached us last spring asking about the potential for bringing therapy dogs in,” said Volunteer Coordinator Jennifer Frank. “After researching the program and doing a lot of groundwork, we’re now able to welcome them to the hospital.”
The pet therapy program is run by volunteers. The dogs undergo intense training, and Frank works with the handlers as she would with any Ministry volunteers. “They bring the dogs into certain areas of the facility, walk into offices and down the hall, and if the patients ask, the dogs will go into the rooms,” according to Frank. “The reaction is phenomenal.”
A recent cold winter morning found Quincy, a four-year old golden retriever and Holly, a four-year old cockapoo visiting staff and patients at Ministry St. Mary’s Hospital. Both are certified with Therapy Dogs International (TDI). They are not hard to find; simply look for the crowds of adults crouched on the floor, and listen for the ‘ohhh gooood dog’ greetings. Quincy’s handler Nancy Diepenbrock is a former cardiac ICU nurse in Wausau. The therapy dog program there had been around for years.
“We always knew before we saw them, when a particular dog and handler were on the floor,” Diepenbrock said. “Just seeing them brought a smile to my face. The power of the dog is just amazing.” That experience gave her the affirmation she needed, and knew that one day she should own a therapy dog.
Diepenbrock chose Quincy as a puppy with that in mind, and began obedience training as soon as was appropriate. Just after his first birthday Quincy passed his test and became an office therapy dog. After being part of a Therapy Dogs International chapter in Mosinee for a while, Diepenbrock, who lives in Eagle River, took on the challenge of forming a Northwoods chapter. Three years ago, Chapter 250 was initiated with 8 dogs; today there are 34 dogs who volunteer in 46 facilities.
In addition to relieving stress, regular visits from therapy dogs and their handlers provide stimulation for conversation, offer a smooth coat to stroke, and elevate the mood of a facility in general, according to TDI.
“We once had a cardiac patient who had just gotten some bad news,” she recalled. “He also had just lost his beloved Golden Retriever. Quincy and I walked in the door to his room and could barely get any words out before he burst into tears. He loved on that dog for more than an hour.”
It’s hard to tell who gets more therapy from the dogs; the patients or the staff. Little Holly, the cockapoo, could hardly sit still in the waiting room; so obviously excited to be there.
“We’ve been volunteering at an assisted living facility in Woodruff,” said Jane Prod, Holly’s handler. “The residents enjoy her so much.”
Holly’s smaller size works well with elderly patients who like to hold her. “One little lady held Holly in her lap for nearly an hour, reminiscing about her dogs,” Prod said. “Some people just need that extra comfort and connection. It’s just so rewarding.”
Diepenbrock says any breed can be a therapy dog; it’s the temperament that matters. Quincy is not only a therapy dog. Last summer he passed an eleven-hour test required to become a Disaster Stress Relief (DSR) dog. “So if there is a natural disaster, or another ‘Sandy Hook’ situation, we can be there not as search and rescue, but to relieve stress,” Diepenbock said. “I am very proud of our TDI chapter, but also very excited about Quincy and our future in therapy.”
Anyone interested in more information on therapy dogs can contact Nancy at 715-479-2498, or email email@example.com/