The softer, fuzzier side to care at Sparrow; therapy dogs help Patients and families heal

Sam and owner/handler Kathy Rademacher make weekly rounds at Sparrow. They've also been chosen as the Volunteer(s) of the Month for December 2012.

Daisy, Sam, Elsa, and nearly a dozen other Sparrow Caregivers pad the halls on any given day dispensing licks and spreading smiles.

What started out with a couple visits to the Pediatric unit has grown into an impressive group of pet therapy teams who regularly visit Patients and families throughout the hospital.

Research by the Mayo Clinic among others has shown that pet therapy is beneficial to lowering blood pressure, significantly reducing pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue, all of which contribute to healing.

Daisy, a Dachshund and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mix, and her owner/handler Jerry Heskitt have been volunteering at Sparrow since 2006. According to the family of a non-responsive Patient in Hospice, Daisy brought a smile to the patient for the first time in weeks.

Sam, a Golden Retriever, and his owner/handler Kathy Rademacher have been visiting Pediatrics, Cancer Center and Palliative Care Patients since October 2011, and are stars around the hospital. Sam's even appeared in a few Patient's facebook posts and tweets. "It's a good feeling to know we're hopefully making a difference in some people's lives," notes Rademacher.

According to Tracy Feazel, Sparrow Volunteer Coordinator, "When you walk around with the teams you can see the smiles that it brings to people's faces and, if only for a moment, it takes their minds away from whatever is worrying them."

One of the newest four-footed Caregivers is Elsa, a 120-pound Newfoundland who makes quite an entrance when vising with her handler Stephanie Heethuis, a retired Sparrow RN Case Manager.

Sparrow's dedicated and caring volunteers play a vital role in our ability to provide quality, compassionate care to everyone, every time. To learn about how you or someone you know can make a difference, visit www.sparrow.org/volunteer and apply online, or call Volunteer Services at 517.364.3606.