St. Catherine Hospital sees many individuals on a daily basis.
Sometimes, they are greeted by unusual, four-legged visitors, as well.
The Garden City Therapy Dog group, made up of therapy dogs Sochi, Allie, Murphy and Savanna and their owners, Cindy Elliott, Jada Lobmeyer and Trudy Reha, visit the hospital on a weekly basis to boost morale among hospital patients and employees alike. Together, they provide comfort and alleviate stress and anxiety in an environment.
The group visits hospitals, nursing homes, schools, the crisis center and even on the Garden City Community College campus during finals week. They are affiliated with the Magic’s Hope, which travels to Garden City and Holcomb summer schools with two ponies. But while the team can be seen across town now, they didn’t come together overnight.
“It took, I don’t know, five or six months before we actually got the therapy dog program in place and going,” Elliott said.
To become a certified therapy dog, the dogs must pass a series of classes and tests to ensure their obedience levels and skills are right for the job.
“The dogs have to have an outgoing personality to really be a therapy dog, but they also have to listen and follow our commands, as well," Lobmeyer said. "They can’t be a dog that is going crazy and doesn’t listen."
Obedience isn't the only requirement for a therapy dog. The dog must be able to remain calm in stressful environments and situations.
“The dogs see a lot of stuff, especially when they come to the hospital,” Reha said. “They see carts going down the hall and oxygen tanks and people in scrubs, and they need to be able to stay calm in an unfamiliar environment like that.”
A dog must be at least 1 year old to take the therapy dog certification test. Elliott has been volunteering with her goldendoodle, Allie, as a certified therapy dog for three years. Reha has been working with her dog, Sochi, a 5-year-old yorkie and Shih Tzu mix known for sitting on patients’ hospital beds, for two and a half years. Lobmeyer’s dogs, terrier Murphy and Great Dane Savanna, have been on the job for one and three years, respectively.
The dogs and their owners have what they call an “open-door policy” when visiting patients.
“We are very careful not to enter a room if a doctor or nurse is in there because we don’t want to interrupt," Reha said. "And if a door is closed, we want to respect the patient’s privacy. But if the door is open and the patient is awake, we will ask if they want a visit before we enter the room."
The therapy dogs also visit the pediatrics section of the hospital. They were even invited into the maternity ward at one visit.
“As we were walking by the maternity ward, one of the doctors saw us and was joking with us — 'Oh, bring the dogs in here. Bring them in here!' " Elliott said. "And we laughed, saying we couldn’t bring the dogs into the room. But we did stand at the door and let the mom-to-be see the dogs.”
Some patients haven’t seen their dogs in a while and miss them, Elliott said. Some cry tears of joy.
“The thing that surprised us all the most was that we started doing this to make people happy, but we didn’t realize how it was going to affect us,” Elliott said. “Because we leave with a happy feeling, as well.”
The Garden City Therapy Dog group is always looking for volunteers and can be contacted on Facebook.