December 1, 2022
By Suzanne Dumaresq
St. Joseph Hospital’s Pet Therapy Program is back! And if Michele Canto, Manager of Volunteer Services, has anything to say about it, it will be better than ever. Before the pandemic, the hospital boasted nine dog/handler teams, regularly connecting with and comforting patients in the Cancer Center, Emergency Department and Rehabilitation Unit and visiting with staff members.
Michele explains, “In August, we decided it was the right time to revive the program, invite therapy teams to return to our community and get back to PAWSitive healing.”
Coincidentally, at that very same time, Trish Ellis, whose mixed-breed dog, Maverick, is an Internationally certified Therapy Dog, reached out to Michele to inquire about opportunities to visit the hospital’s patients and employees. Trish shares, “I simply wanted to give back, to share Maverick’s generous spirit with people who would enjoy and appreciate it. He brightens the day of everyone he meets.”
Trish and Maverick were welcomed by the St. Joe’s community with open arms and hit the ground running. They typically work every Monday for 60- to 90-minute increments. Maverick’s work includes smiling, putting his head on a patient’s laps, snuggling with them and kindly asking to be pet. Trish adds, “Maverick represents the softer side of healing. He’s unconcerned with germs, sickness, or a difficult diagnosis. His only goal is to spread joy.”
Pet therapy teams are certified to do their work. They are also official St. Joseph Hospital volunteers, which means they are appropriately screened and credentialed. Maverick even has his own badge.
Walter Debowski, an infusion services patient shares, “Visiting with Maverick, and his handler Trish, helps me pass the time during my weekly treatments. I momentarily forget why I’m at the hospital. It’s comforting to be around Maverick. I look forward to seeing his smile and wagging tail.”
Recently a specialty care manager reached out to Volunteer Services to request a pet therapy visit for her team. Trish and Maverick were happy to swing by and say hello. Michele says, “Our staff also greatly benefits from a break to enjoy Maverick. Seeing, petting and spending a few moments with him provides our employees an opportunity to decompress and relieve stress.”
Conveying Mission Without Words
“Our pet therapy dogs are clearly inspired by the spirit of our foundress, St. Marguerite. They don’t judge, they just love,” says Michele. “They convey our Mission without words by unconditionally comforting the sick and vulnerable. They sense moods and approach patients accordingly. It’s deeply touching.”
Michele’s ultimate goal is to have a team available seven days a week, in both the morning and afternoon, to support patients and caregivers.