Volunteer in pet therapy and spread joy with your fur baby
Diane Prange and Nevsky, her Siberian husky, are Hennepin Healthcare volunteers and travel the halls of HCMC looking to spread joy. Pet therapy is a service provided through the Volunteer Services department. If you’re looking for a way to spread joy with your fur buddy, consider pet therapy. There is never enough supply to meet demand.
A therapy animal is a specially trained animal that partners with its human handler to volunteer at a variety of facilities and events, bringing joy, comfort, and companionship to those they meet. While typically trained in basic obedience skills, therapy dogs (or “comfort dogs”) are not required to perform essential tasks for those they serve or specialize in any specific area of service (like obedience pets).
Diane started this quest about a year after retiring. Now, she can be found in EMS and likes to come in around shift changes (brilliant!) Sometimes they make a stop in dispatch or travel to the ED where staff loves these visits. Both of those areas can be extremely stressful places, so pet therapy is very welcome. If directed, Diane and Nevsky can visit a patient, but they are very aware to only do so if directed.
Sometimes they travel to P7 where you can find the pediatric inpatient units. ICU saw them one day and asked them in. “With RSV around, pediatrics has been a little closed down. Someone there said to me, ‘Diane would you be interested in visiting the Poison Center? They are in the basement’. I said, tell me how to get there and I’ll find them, and sure enough I did. They were terrific.” (The Poison Center visit is shown at the top of this post.)
Diane continues, “The flexibility to do rounds and the freedom I am given here is amazing. There is such a variety of both staff and patients at HCMC that makes me love it. There is another hospital (I won’t name names) where they kind of closely monitor the pet therapy group and they don’t have the variety – the patients are all the same age”. Oops, did she give it away?
Diane became interested in pet therapy when her father was in hospice. He had requested a therapy pet visit, but one wasn’t available. The comfort that would have provided him never quite left Diane’s thoughts.
When Diane’s husband, Bill, saw how happy she was providing pet therapy, he joined in. They’re both partial to Siberian huskies. Bill takes his therapy dog Chekhov to HCMC’s psych areas and also visits the V.A. He thanks her all the time for bringing him into the rewarding world of pet therapy.
What does Diane get out of being a pet therapy volunteer? “Oh, it’s a 3-way win! I get the gift of interacting with others, the receivers always enjoy it and if it calms them or maybe distracts them from a difficult day that’s rewarding. And of course, the pet, especially Nevsky, takes in more attention than he can imagine. It’s all about joy”.
Nevsky, with the help of Diane, has even written a book about sneaking into the State Fair with some of his buddies! It’s titled ‘A Minnesota State Fairy Tail’. He considers himself rather famous!
Bill and Diane are now training Pushkin and have a new puppy coming soon. Diane adds, “you need to be good at multi-tasking for sure. And we love Hennepin Healthcare!”.
According to UCLA Health, the presence of an animal prompts most people’s bodies to release serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin, which generate a relaxation and stress-reducing response. Sound like a purpose you could provide with your furry friend? We are looking for more pet therapy teams at Hennepin Healthcare. Contact Volunteer Services to find out if this is for you.