FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) – New colleagues will soon be heading to Mercy Hospital-Fort Smith, only these workers have four legs.
When Baxter, the therapy dog, began visiting patients and colleagues at Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith last summer, the positive response was immediate, the hospital said. Now, a trio of new dogs have joined Mercy’s therapy dog program, with River, Honeybun and Lola Belle now on the volunteer staff.
“We are thrilled to have additional therapy dog teams visiting us weekly,” said Jenni Powell, volunteer services manager at Mercy Fort Smith. “We started the therapy dog program last year and have seen significant benefits. The dogs really brighten up everyone’s day and help bring a sense of calm to those who need it most.
The release notes the goal of the therapy dogs, which is to help reduce patient anxiety. Other goals of the program include improving the quality of stay, mood and emotional well-being of patients, while providing them with comfort and joy; increase interaction and dialogue; increase overall patient satisfaction; and relieve stress for hospital staff, visitors and families.
According to a press release, Honeybun, an eight-year-old Chihuahua, is passed by Faith Walker, a student at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. When Walker heard about the program, she knew it would be a great opportunity for her and her personal therapy dog.
“She loves seeing everyone and making everyone happy,” Walker said. “She brings me a lot of joy while spreading some love in the community. It’s something I’m really passionate about.
River comes from volunteer Kaley Moore, assistant coach of the Southside High School basketball team. River, a 2-year-old Australian Shepherd and Great Pyrenees mix, visits the hospital regularly.
“He loves it; he’s great at it,” Moore said of River. “I really think dogs make everything better.”
Mercy says River has been most helpful when he and Moore are with patients and families when they receive difficult news. “People will cry and hug him,” Moore said. “It’s great to see the energy they find. It’s really cool how a dog can instantly change things, whether it’s the mood or the energy in the room.
River has been most helpful when he and Moore are with patients and families when they receive difficult news.
Debbie and Larry Wright recently started bringing Lola Belle for hospital visits after receiving their certification around Christmas, and they’ve been to the hospital about once a week since then, stopping in as many wards as possible, according to the statement.
Like Baxter, Lola Belle is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. When visiting Baxter, Debbie thought her dog would also be a capable companion. The couple then contacted Mercy to begin the therapy dog certification process.
“You can say, ‘Let’s go to the hospital and see people,’ and she’s interested in it,” Larry Wright said. “She was my comfort dog, but she turned into a therapy dog.”
Volunteer Robert Mercer helps train and certify the dogs as therapy dogs, while Powell works with the dog’s caretaker on the volunteer side. The Alliance of National Therapy Dogs vouches for the dog after the certification process. Because the dog and handler are one team, both are registered as volunteers. The therapy dog certification process takes several months.
Anyone interested in Mercy’s therapy dog program can email Jenni Powell at [email protected] or visit Mercy’s website.