Patients at OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital can expect to see two therapy dogs making their rounds.
Halle, a six-year-old golden retriever certified by Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and Jazz, a six-year-old goldendoodle certified with Therapy Dogs International, visit O’Bleness on alternating Tuesdays, comforting patients and staff alike.
“The benefit is just to have something soft, just to hug and talk to for a minute to take their mind off, you know, what’s going on in their world,” O’Bleness volunteer manager Amy Radekin-Lent said. “It’s really humbling. I don’t have a better word for that.”
The therapy dog program began in early December with the help of Steve Trotta, Halle’s trainer and physical therapist at Ohio University, and Pat Vogt, former O’Bleness volunteer manager.
Trotta said the idea for the program came to him after bringing his former golden retriever, Quincy, along with him to a nursing home.
“One day a patient who was a little agitated and whatnot didn’t recognize me, didn’t want me to (do her) therapy, and Quincy jumped up on her bed … and curled up there with her, and it clicked (with me) that your physical therapist, that’s Quincy,” Trotta said. “Ever since then I’d thought that that would be neat to do. If I didn’t bring the dog, the residents didn’t want to see me.”
For the past 20 years, Trotta has been raising golden retrievers with his wife Jenny. In addition to Halle, they currently own two other golden retrievers named Fenway and Willow.
Though she has only been a licensed therapy dog for a few months, Halle has spent a lot of time comforting people. Last December, Trotta took his three dogs to Alden Library to help destress students during final exams. Before that, she was in a production of Annie with the River Players.
Trotta plans on getting Fenway accredited through TDI, which would allow him to be brought into the hospital along with Halle and Jazz.
Jazz, who was brought into the program about a month after Halle, is owned by Debbie Willis, a former EMS paramedic and current TDI assessor. Jazz is accredited through TDI and is also an accredited Disaster Stress Relief dog.
In 2018, Jazz and Willis visited the victims of Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence through a partnership between the Salvation Army and TDI. The dogs comforted people who had lost their homes in the storms, Willis said.
“We stayed with the Salvation Army and wherever they would go, we would go,” Willis said. “They say the first thing you do is feed the people at canteen trucks, and they would go out to feed the people. That’s where people would come, so that’s where we would go.”
Jazz and Willis are part of a TDI chapter with other dogs and their handlers in Jackson County. Recently, the chapter has walked in marches in support of special needs awareness and suicide prevention.
To be a therapy dog, the hospital requires that the dog be accredited through one of the major pet therapy programs, including ATD and TDI. This means that they must pass a series of trials which test their ability to remain calm, including how a dog reacts to large groups of people or another dog in the hospital.
Both Halle and Jazz are registered volunteers with the hospital. The dogs each have their own hospital name tags and will soon both get a kind of personal “baseball card” that their handlers can give patients, O’Bleness Hospital Marketing and Communication Manager Keely Stockwell said.
Both patients and hospital staff love to see the dogs, Radekin-Lent said.
“I mean, you get all kinds of reactions, like bright eyed. Everybody smiles and it’s happy,” Radekin-Lent said. “They’ve heard of the pet therapy program, but because it’s in our community they’re just really receptive, and excited.”
Trotta said his favorite part is seeing the hospital staff light up.
“I take her to the oncology center every once in awhile, and that’s a really tough row to hoe sometimes when you’re dealing with cancer patients day in and day out,” Trotta said. “They get a kick out of Halle and probably Jazz coming in to see everybody.”
A previous version of this report incorrectly misspelled Pat Vogt's name. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.