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News Volunteer Spotlight: Pet Therapy Teams Provide Comfort to Patients

Volunteer Spotlight: Pet Therapy Teams Provide Comfort to Patients

Madison ,

The power of touch is an important part of the healing process, and research has shown that petting and interacting with a furry friend has tremendous benefits to our physical and mental wellbeing.

St. Mary’s Hospital is fortunate to have 22 volunteer Pet Therapy teams who regularly​ visit our patients. June Hertzler and her rescue dog, Maggie, are one of those teams. June and Maggie spend time with an average of 16 patients per visit every week.

“Staff direct us to patients who need comfort, cheer, diversion or escape,” June said. “Interested in how their patients react to our visits, they stop while we are there and rejoice in their patients being uplifted or touched by our visit. It is our mission to support patients as well as the work of the staff.”
Joanne Johnson, St. Mary’s Director of Volunteer Services, said June and Maggie pride themselves in caring for the whole person—body, mind and spirit.
“They assist in the patient’s recovery by providing emotional comfort, a healing experience and special memories during what may be a difficult time,” Joanne said.

That’s evidenced in a recent Mission Moment shared by June: 

“We visited a man following surgery. I leaned over and held Maggie up to him so he could reach her. He seemed misty as he shared his memories of the dogs they owned throughout the years. His wife sat quietly looking out the window, occasionally looking over to nod in agreement and offered a smile. She was struggling with her emotions. After some time of stroking and talking to Maggie, the patient said, ‘They can’t help me. It’s gone too far so I will be going home and this is how it will end for me. I was feeling sorry for myself. This little fur-ball brought me a moment of happiness and relief from my thoughts.’ The wife came over to comfort and grieve with her husband. I struggled with something to say as I left and asked God to bless them and be at their sides through their journey.”

June, who also works as a Human Resources Assistant in the Dean Clinic Corporate Office, adopted Maggie from New Beginnings Shih Tzu Rescue two years ago. Maggie came to June at a time when she was looking for comfort in her own life, as she had recently lost both her mother and her dog, Abby.
“I believe Maggie was brought to me to help me make the transition to a new life,” she said.

June soon realized that Maggie had limited hearing and poor eyesight, as well as an issue with her kneecaps that keep them from staying in place, affecting her gait. At some point in her life, Maggie had also suffered a double fracture to her pelvis that was either never treated, or was treated poorly and didn’t heal correctly.  

“She was such a special pup I couldn't understand why anyone would give her up,” June said. “She has suffered a lot in her short little life and I think that is why she relates so well to those in pain or suffering themselves in some capacity. She is perfect in so many ways and has been a blessing to all those she meets.”

June was recently selected to represent St. Mary’s Hospital as a keynote speaker for the 2016 SSM Health Leadership Conference next month in St. Louis. Maggie will be going along to show how she provides a soft, comforting and healing touch to our patients. Congratulations, June and Maggie! We know you both will represent St. Mary’s Hospital well.​