Sponsored by Dalton Box
Shaonia, a 9-year-old American Kennel Club registered American Staffordshire terrier, recently celebrated her 2,000th pet visit with Hamilton Medical Center (HMC). Shaonia has 2,840 volunteer hours as a therapy dog.
“That is a huge milestone for our furry friend,” says Gay Ann Talley, Guest and Volunteer Services supervisor, “and we are so proud of her.”
Joanne Davis, Shaonia’s owner, started volunteering with HMC’s Therapy Dog program in February of 2014 and has had two other dogs participating in the program in the past, Shawnee, an American Staffordshire terrier, and Sophie, a springer spaniel. They have since retired. Sabrina, a Boston terrier, is the newest addition.
“Sabrina visits Hamilton occasionally but not often because Hamilton is Shaonia’s people,” said Davis. “She knows when I have been to Hamilton without her, and I get the cold shoulder for a while, but not too long. Shaonia has a heart as big as her smile so she doesn’t stay upset for long.”
Davis says when she rescued Shaonia, she never dreamt she would be a therapy dog. But one day, everything changed.
“She was scared to death of everything!” says Davis. “I would take her out to explore the world. And one day, she pulled me over to this gentleman, sat at his feet and looked up at him. He started to pet her, and that was it. A therapy dog immerged!”
Shaonia became certified with Alliance of Therapy Dogs in 2016. “Shaonia has gotten really good at being a therapy dog,” Davis says. “When we enter into a room, she can feel who needs her the most. Whether they’re anxious, nervous, not feeling well or worried, she picks up on this and goes and sits in front of them so they can pet her.”
Davis says she and her dogs participate in the program to make people smile and feel better.
“When you walk into a patient room and they see the pups and their faces light up, you can’t get a better feeling than that,” Davis says. “When we are walking down the halls, we often hear nurses say, ‘SHAONIA!’ and they come up to her to get their love. Their reactions and interactions with Shaonia are heartwarming to me and makes me feel very blessed we are able to do therapy dog visits.”
Therapy dog visits tend to remind patients of their own dogs. “It is always very emotional when we visit, and the people start telling us about their dogs,” says Davis. “They share memories they have of their dogs that have crossed over the Rainbow Bridge or the dogs in their life now – the ones that are at home waiting for them. I love to watch the pleasure they have and the way it helps lighten up their days when they see Shaonia or any therapy dog.”
One of the most memorable experiences that Davis says she’s had was when she and Shaonia were in a local store, and a lady came up to them. The lady told them that they had visited her mother at HMC earlier that month and that her mother was really scared about being there. “We came in for a visit, and after we left, she said that her mother could do nothing else but talk about Shaonia,” says Davis. “She said her mother was more relaxed after the visit. She said she wanted to thank us that day but wasn’t able to leave her mother’s side.”
HMC’s Therapy Dog Program is part of its plan to treat the whole patient. Dalton Box sponsors HMC’s Therapy Dog Program. The therapy dogs visit with patients, families and associates throughout the campus including patient rooms, the Peeples Cancer Institute, the Emergency Department, medical intensive care unit, and even administrative offices.
Other volunteers in HMC’s Therapy Dog Program include Jill Durden with Quigley, an Australian shepherd, and Janie DuBose with Buck, a terrier mix.
Researchers and experts agree that pets excel as therapeutic agents in the healing process and serve as a strong antidote to the depression that is often associated with acute medical diagnoses. Studies have shown that patients and family members who interact with a therapy dog experience a decrease in blood pressure and stress levels. A visit from a therapy dog team helps break the daily routine, increases overall emotional well-being and stimulates the mind in compelling ways. Therapy dog visits offer benefits which include bringing joy and laughter, taking a person’s mind off of aches, pains and worries, encouraging the sharing of emotions and stories, providing an opportunity to communicate with others, lowering stress levels and rekindling fond memories of a person’s own pet.
“When anyone pets the dogs, they release oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, into their body and the dogs,” says Davis. “Shaonia is addicted to being a therapy dog. I have been very blessed to have Shaonia come into my life. To be able to share her with people has been another blessing. “We both look forward to visiting with more people and hope to have many more years participating in the program.”
Hamilton’s Pet Therapy Program is Sponsored by Dalton Box