Paws on the ground: A chat about the Three Rivers Visiting Dogs program

For most, it’s hard to see the warm eyes and devoted demeanor of an adorable dog and not feel softened in some way. That is the hope of the amazing volunteers (and animals) who support the Three Rivers Visiting Dogs group. Perhaps you’ve seen these friendly four-legged visitors around the hospitals. Recently, the team, who goes through the same onboarding as all Parkview volunteers, shared a bit about what this opportunity means to them.

Sharon Laupp
President, Three Rivers Visiting Dogs
Volunteer since 2002
Parkview Cancer Institute

In 2002, I took one of my dogs to the Fort Wayne Obedience Training Club, and at the end of our puppy classes, Bob Everest, who was then the president of Three Rivers Visiting Dogs, spoke to us. I had already taken my dog to some nursing homes because he was so cute and I wanted to share him. We got into the official program and we’ve been doing it for the last 16 years. I currently have three therapy dogs in the program who take turns going with me.

Volunteering with the dogs is pretty much my whole life right now. I’m just giving back and sharing my animals and trying to put a smile on someone’s face who is having a hard time. The dogs can work little miracles in people’s lives. It’s a small thing but it can be a big thing.

I remember this young man, who was a behavioral health patient, got down on the floor with my dog and started crying. He thanked me for bringing her and said, “I didn’t think I could ever be happy again, and now I know I can.”

So often people tell me I’ve made their day. There’ve been people in nursing homes who didn’t speak until we brought the dogs in, or they’d been looking at the wall and they turn around to interact with the dog. Every day, when I go on a visit, I expect good things to happen, no matter where I am. We get blessed back as much as we give blessings to others.

We have 110 volunteers and 125 dogs (some people have more than one in the program). Participants come and go as life happens. I had a partner here in Huntington who I always did visits with. When she passed away, she left me her two dogs. I already had two dogs and I was having difficulty keeping all four, so I found a new home for her sheltie, Bella. She really took to the husband of the couple who adopted her. She followed him around. Two months ago, his wife passed away. He called me and said he was interested in bringing Bella back to the program so he would have something to do. Last week was his first visit, and it’s so great to have Bella back.

Diana Kuebler
Volunteer since 2005
Parkview Regional Medical Center, Parkview Heart Institute

I rescued my first lab in 2001, but didn’t graduate from the Three Rivers Visiting Dogs program until 2005. I’d say I joined this club by God’s pure grace. I’ve always been a people person and I believe we’re on this earth for a purpose, and if it’s not to serve others, then I don’t know what it is. The desire to make people smile is contagious, and I’m grateful I can do that with the amazing rescues who have been put in my lap.

There have been so many special moments. The first time I went to Parkview, we got turned around and ended up in a hallway on a floor we typically didn’t go to. There was a family outside a room and something heartbreaking was clearly going on. I made eye contact with a young woman outside the door and she looked at Orey, my big yellow lab. “Would you like to pet my dog?” I asked. She knelt down and pet his head. In that moment I knew we were there for that family, not the patient.

It’s therapy for us, too. When we come through the door we never know who will approach and request a visit, and we always make every attempt to get there. Occasionally a nurse will know about us or know to contact Chaplaincy and they will let us know about a specific patient.

One such case was an ICU patient. He was receiving palliative care and really missing his dogs back home. When we got the request from Chaplaincy, we knew we wanted to make a visit happen. We got the doctor’s clearance and confirmed it was a safe situation for the animals. We began text messaging each other to see who was available, and there were three of us. We took a golden retriever, a Newfoundland and one of my labs. The dogs went to his bedside so he could pet their heads. That sense of touch is so important. Particularly with more severe cases, you just want to make it work and be there for the person so they have a sense of peace and calm. It makes a difference for the family as well.

And sometimes there’s just a connection. One day I was visiting with Silas, my other lab, and we passed this young man, a cancer patient. Silas saw this fella and practically pulled me over to get to him. There was something about him that Silas adored. The young man sat on the edge of his bed and put his arms around Silas and just held him.

When you hear a mother exclaim about her child, "This is the first time you've smiled all week!" or the niece of a hospice patient share that our dogs made her aunt speak for the first time all day, you feel so blessed!

Good Lord willing, as long as I have a healthy dog and I stay healthy myself I’ll keep doing this. It is touching someone's life, and bringing them a few minutes of pure affection and compassion. The moments like the ones I shared … those are why we do what we do.

Bob Bergeron
Volunteer since 2002
Parkview Regional Medical Center

My wife, Lisa [Bergeron, MD, PPG – Pediatric Developmental Care], told me about Three Rivers Visiting Dogs. She’d seen them in the hospital at various times, so I thought I would try it. I have three dogs currently in the program, Blue, Maize and Blossom, all golden retrievers.

There are good experiences every time we go. It’s really not about me, it’s all about the dogs and their connection with, not only the patients, but the families and the staff. They get to take a break from their current circumstances and have something positive and soothing for a few moments. My hope is that it allows them to put their troubles aside and let the dog comfort them.

Dogs love everybody. They don’t discriminate. I haven’t figured out how or why, but I swear they seem to know who needs comforted the most and always go up to them. The dog provides love for a few minutes.

I am fortunate in my life to have the availability to do this and, truthfully, the other reason I enjoy it so much is that our club is full of wonderful people and I love being around them. You get to know staff and develop relationships with them.

I definitely plan to continue. Our puppy just got her certification and she loves it. On occasion, we go to the Parkview Pediatric Developmental Care Clinic where Lisa works. The dogs enjoy when they see Lisa and her staff; they’re such wonderful people. They know they’re welcome there and get excited when we walk into their offices.

I would tell someone who’s interested in this work to socialize their dog around people and around other dogs. Secondly, spend a lot of time with your dog so you can read their moods and feelings. And finally, be willing to make a commitment to the various organizations that you’ll visit because they count on us being there. If there’s ever a time we don’t show up, they’re disappointed because they look forward to it.

Want to join the club?

The group takes all breeds of dogs, and finds it’s nice to have a mix of larger and smaller animals. Those interested in joining will need to put their dog in an obedience class and will eventually go through an evaluation process. While there’s currently a waiting list to participate in the Three Rivers Visiting Dogs program, those interested can contact Sharon at LauppSharon@aol.com or (260) 358-6067 for more information.

 

 

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