Pet therapy brings smiles at UNC Lenoir Health Care

Pet therapy brings smiles at UNC Lenoir Health Care

Suzanne Sapp plays with Blue Eyes as her handler Fred Massengill looks on during her pet therapy visit last week at UNC Lenoir Health Care. Massengill and Blue Eyes spend about two hours visiting patients once a month at the hospital. Photo by Janet Sutton / Neuse News

Some people send their loved ones flowers while they're in the hospital, while others may write kind expressions in a card. Even the smallest of thoughtful gestures can bring about a positive reaction.

But people can't help but smile when Fred Massengill and his dog Blue Eyes enter a room.

Massengill is a volunteer with UNC Lenoir Health Care's pet therapy program. Once a month, he and Blue Eyes, accompanied by a hospital representative, spend time with patients who would like a visit.

Fred Massengill gives Blue Eyes a dog biscuit before they start volunteering last week at UNC Lenoir Health Care. Photo by Janet Sutton / Neuse News

Fred Massengill gives Blue Eyes a dog biscuit before they start volunteering last week at UNC Lenoir Health Care. Photo by Janet Sutton / Neuse News

“I'm so glad you came to see me, Blue,” said Suzanne Sapp as she looked at the Border Collie and Australian Shepard mix during a recent visit.

She immediately began petting Blue Eyes as she described her two dogs to Massengill. They laughed and chatted about their canines but Blue Eyes couldn't hear them because she's deaf.

Her inability to hear is why Blue Eyes’ veterinarian recommended she would make a good therapy dog. In order to be a qualified therapy dog, they must meet certain requirements set by the American Kennel Club for Canine Good Citizenship. It's a checklist of criteria that details actions and responses, such as accepting a friendly stranger and behaving politely. Dogs must be able to respond to their handler and follow commands.

Blue Eyes’ vest identifies her as a pet therapy dog. It has her name and encourages people to pet her. Photo by Janet Sutton / Neuse News

Blue Eyes’ vest identifies her as a pet therapy dog. It has her name and encourages people to pet her. Photo by Janet Sutton / Neuse News

“It's amazing how much she knows,” Massengill said. “She knows how to read body language.”

Owners definitely have to understand their pets; dogs and their owners must go through mock therapy training and complete a handlers course.

The course is $70 and registration is $95, but UNC Lenoir Health Care is willing to help with the fees. Hospital officials are aware it's a time and financial commitment for the volunteer so they reimburse the cost of the handlers course and initial registration fee once the handler becomes certificated, completes hospital orientation requirements and have volunteered at the UNC Lenoir Health Care three times.

Massengill does his part to make sure Blue Eyes is ready for the job. To prepare for her visit, she has to be groomed and cleaned, paperwork has to be filled out and a safety check completed before they spend about two hours at the hospital.

But the two don't seem to mind.

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