Therapy dog ​​team helps create program providing companion animal care for hospital patients

WESTMINSTER, Colo. — When Barb O’Dwyer and Mack walk into a room, it’s hard to tell who gets the most attention. Mack is a therapy dog, and he and Barb have been volunteering at Centura St. Anthony North since 2019.

“Her job is literally to bring love, joy and comfort to everyone in this building,” O’Dwyer said.

O’Dwyer and Mack are more than just a team of therapy dogs at the hospital. O’Dwyer volunteers as the coordinator of the hospital’s therapy dog ​​program, managing the 14 teams that work at the hospital.

“While the program is called Legs 4 Patientswe call it Break for anyone in the building because our doctors, our nurses, our cafeteria staff, our housekeeping, our supply chain, etc., there is a lot of stress in this building,” she added.

Even though COVID-19 protocols kept them away from the building for seven months, O’Dwyer and Mack have made more than 220 hospital visits over the past three years. These visits are in addition to Barb’s real job as a project manager – a demanding job with skills she used when she volunteered to help create the Paws 4 Paws program at the hospital.

“We’ve seen quite a few patients during the pandemic who, unfortunately, were homeless and came into the hospital and there was no one there who could take care of their dog,” said Jessie Thurber-Dean, l head nurse at the hospital. “Barb and her partner Mack really identified that need and put a lot of effort into this program.

Paws 4 Paws is a partnership with Foothills Animal Shelter created through a grant from the hospital’s Centura Health Foundation. The shelter provides transportation to and from the shelter as well as three days of pet boarding for patients who have no one else to leave their dog with while they undergo medical care. O’Dwyer says the shelter will also pamper pets a bit.

“They will provide vaccines. They will give the dog a bath and a nail trim,” she says with a smile before adding that the shelter is also throwing away a $40 gift card that can be used at the Foothills Animal Shelter supply store. “So deal with leashes, beds, collars, whatever – something special for the dog that he may not be able to afford.”

This article was written by KMGH.