The stroke Barbara Chen recently suffered has kept her apart from her three beloved dogs as she undergoes rehab at Providence Medford Medical Center.
"I miss my dogs very much," said Chen, who is bound to a wheelchair as she recovers with the help of treatment.
However, Chen received an emotional lift Thursday when Sidney, a therapy dog with a coat of shiny brown hair and a laid-back personality, paid a visit.
Chen perked up when Sidney plopped down on her lap in a hospital courtyard.
"Animals are so good to hand to people," Chen said. "They really mellow you out. They cause you to slow down a little bit."
Mary Mahoney Heine, who is Sidney's handler, accompanies the dog on visits with hospice patients who seek a connection with happier times in their lives.
"Dogs provide a lot of inspiration for people, even as they reach the end-of-life journey," Heine said.
Providence has included animals in its hospice treatment program for some time. They work in conjunction with other holistic treatments such as aromatherapy, acupuncture and music therapy.
The hospital is now looking for volunteers with animals to join the hospice treatment program, according to Susan Cooper, Providence's hospice care volunteer coordinator.
"We are always looking for volunteers who can give about four hours a week," Cooper said.
Heine has received training and certification through Pet Partners, a nonprofit that offers animal therapy to people in need.
Therapy animals are used to treat hospice patients, people who have suffered serious physical injury, psychiatric patients, and those with developmental disabilities, Heine said.
"Animals are used in so many ways," Cooper said. "Who wouldn't want to have a sweet dog come sit by them?"
Not anyone with a pet can just show up at the hospital and expect to join the volunteer team, Cooper said.
The animal needs to go through a rigorous series of checks that include temperament, health, cleanliness and age.
Dogs must be at least 1 year old and cannot show any sign of aggression.
Heine said Sidney, a Yorkshire terrier, was put through a series of paces in a hospital-like setting for his training.
The trainers created an atmosphere with loud noise, wheelchairs moving around and people in walkers moving around the dog, Heine said.
Sidney passed the tests with ease, and now he seems to enjoy spending time with sick and disabled people who are eager to give him a good scratch under the chin.
The hospital hopes that people with dogs that are already certified through Pet Partners will volunteer. However, the hospice staff will accept people and pets who have no volunteer experience.
"They will have to take volunteer training," Cooper said.
The hospital will host volunteer training days on July 18 and 19. Anyone interested can call 541-732-6532 for more information.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.