COURT HOUSE - Cape Regional Medical Center’s pet therapy program is delighting patients and staff of all ages.

The program, founded in 2008, is intended to provide patients with a pet therapy amenity by way of scheduled, supervised visitation. The program "has had a tremendous, positive impact on patients, staff, and visitors,” explained Julie Paolella, director of volunteers, who works hand in hand with the pet therapy program.

The program has strict rules to ensure the success of the program.  Pet therapy dogs go through extensive training, have certifications, and are required to have prior experience.  

According to Ellen Lomax, founder of the program, each weekday different dogs visit with staff, patients, and hospital visitors. Pet therapy can have positive effects including lowering blood pressure and bringing joy to patients.

“I believe in being involved and serving the community,” said Lomax. According to Lomax, being able to help people and do it with her love of dogs has been her inspiration and passion. 

Lomax founded the pet therapy program at Cape Regional Medical Center. The first pet therapy dog, Frosty, has since retired but Lomax and handler Maryann Lighty bring in their 11-year-old pup “Tessa.”

Dog handler Bob Walsh who has been involved with pet therapy for 18 years gushed as he talked about the pet therapy program. “I love making people smile and am proud to be a part of this team,” Walsh said with his 5-year-old Great Pyrenees at his side. 

Several of the pups in the program spend time in other venues as well. Handlers Kiki Miller and Karen Wadding, who have four dogs in the program, also take their furry friends to schools. “You can’t imagine how much I get out of this,” expressed Miller. “People are always telling me that I made their day.” 

Handler Aileen Kennedy, owner of ‘Teddi the Bearoness' a 3-year-old English Cream Doodle, who resembles a teddy bear, became involved in pet therapy for personal reasons.

Kennedy’s father was unwell and residing in a rehabilitation facility. She wanted a way to do more and bring joy to patients.

“Therapy animals make a real difference in patients' and staffs' lives,” she said. “I love sharing Teddi. She’s empathetic and brings joy to people.”

Dogs are taken into patients’ rooms with strict supervision and with permission of patients. The dogs also spend time in waiting areas and have time to visit with hospital staff too.

The reaction of patients, visitors, and staff can be overwhelming. While hospital visits can be stressful, the pet therapy program helps make the day a little brighter for everyone.

To contact Johanna Hovik, email jhovik@cmcherald.com.

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