Hospital volunteers come in all forms, even four legged ones

April 28, 2017 | by Mary Lou Mastro

I am what they call a dog person. I think people love dogs so much because they have all of the qualities that we most admire in people. They’re loving, loyal and just plain fun.HDLouAATDog Sugar, my Miniature Schnauzer, is admittedly ill-mannered and spoiled rotten. But she’s also my buddy. She’s been known to run up to eight miles with me, keeping me company on those short, little legs.

Back in 2001, my boss, friend, and mentor, Pam Davis, decided that Edward Hospital needed a dog. Anyone who knows Pam knows that she loves to be innovative and a little “on the edge,” and she felt that having a dog around would make everyone happy, both patients and staff. A program like this was fairly unheard of at that time, but Pam knew that it would be a hit, and she challenged the team to come up with something that would work.

In 2002, the Edward Hospital Animal Assisted Therapy was launched with 15 volunteer dog-handlers and their dogs. Patients were asked whether they were interested in a visit with a dog, and those who said yes got to spend some time with a friendly, furry companion. It was a success from the get-go.

Several years later, in 2012, Elmhurst Hospital approached Edward and developed a program based on the one that Edward started. Today, Edward and Elmhurst Hospitals have a total of 95 dog/handler teams. From a tiny Yorkshire terrier to a lumbering Mastiff, a dog walking down the halls of our hospitals is not an unusual sight. And when they do, the effect is immediate. People stop in their tracks; their entire demeanor can change – it’s like a breath of fresh air.

Today we know that dogs and other pets can have a remarkable effect on us when we’re ill. They can lower our heart rate, help control our blood pressure and even decrease our need for pain medication. And so what started as what some thought was a whacky idea, has turned into an extremely successful program, and something that I believe really sets our hospitals apart from the others.

It’s important to point out that a program like this could not be what it is without our volunteers. These people are simply incredible. Whether they’re visiting patients with their dog companions or delivering flowers to a patient room or making sure our patients can find their way, these lovely, compassionate, special human beings are the heart of our hospitals. Last year, 1,630 dedicated volunteers gave over 136,700 hours of their time to Edward-Elmhurst Health. And since April 23 – 29 is National Volunteer Week, I’d like to take the opportunity to honor them.

These are special people. They do what they do because making someone else a little happier, a little more comfortable, a little less afraid - is what fulfills them. They get an immediate gratification for their efforts, and for them – that is the ultimate motivator.

I know, without a doubt, that the hospitals of Edward-Elmhurst Health are different because of the people here. I am so fortunate to work every day next to people who are most fulfilled when they’re helping someone. And our volunteers – both canine and otherwise – are a great example of the kind of caring and compassion I see every day.

Find more information about volunteering at Edward-Elmhurst Health

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