ThedaCare At Home Adds Four-Legged Volunteers

Therapy Dog Program Provides Comfort to Those in Hospice Settings

Studies show a trained therapy dog can provide comfort to patients, and their families, in a hospice setting. “These studies indicate that the touch and the tail wagging and the total acceptance just increases endorphins,” which are feel good chemicals released by the brain that help decrease pain, said Ruthanne Thomas, hospice volunteer coordinator for ThedaCare At Home (TCAH) in the Waupaca area. “People just feel better.”

Thomas said TCAH plans to launch a pet therapy program within the facilities in its coverage area in Waupaca and New London. The program is funded by the Community Hospice Foundation.

“ThedaCare At Home’s hospice therapy dog program serves to provide comfort, support and animal companionship to patients, families and staff through the use of trained therapy dogs,” said Teri Metropulos, hospice manager for TCAH.

“The introduction of animals into patient’s environments is a way of humanizing healthcare,” she said, noting benefits such as diminished physical and emotional pain, reduced anxiety and happier people. “The increasing use of high technology in society really decreases high touch, and pet therapy brings high touch back into medical care.”

“We're delighted to have this program to compliment the pet therapy program already successfully running in the Fox Valley,” said Thomas.

Thomas and Molly Johnson, owner of Canine Comfort, a dog therapy program development business, are recruiting dog owners and their dogs. They hope to begin training in October and start supervised visits later in November.

  • ThedaCare At Home Hospice is seeking volunteers for the new therapy dog program, which provides visits by registered therapy dogs and their handlers to hospice patients for the purpose of love, support, comfort, and animal companionship. Interested volunteers should have excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate with many different populations. Dogs must be a minimum of 1 year of age and be calm, gentle, polite, and comfortable interacting with unfamiliar people in unfamiliar settings. Comprehensive therapy dog training and registration is provided at no cost to handler by Molly Johnson, owner and consultant with Canine Comfort, LLC. To learn more about this volunteer opportunity, contact Molly Johnson at (920) 716-1890.

“When we do assessments of potential therapy dog teams, we are looking quite a bit at the handler,” she said.

In her years with dogs, Johnson has seen the benefits to those in their end of life years. Dogs give patients something to connect and relate to. “Dogs are an integral part of most people’s lives,” she said.

ThedaCare At Home has received numerous recognitions in the past six years as one of the fastest growing and best performing home care agencies in the nation. ThedaCare At Home provides a continuum of home care services, including skilled nursing, home and residential hospice care, respiratory services, infusion therapy, home medical equipment, rehab and mobility, remote monitoring and other specialty services. ThedaCare At Home serves more than 17,000 patients in 12 counties, including Outagamie, Winnebago, Calumet, Brown, Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Waushara, Waupaca, Shawano, Menominee, Oconto, and Portage counties. There are more than 300 employees, including 150 licensed health care professionals in 15 different specialties. ThedaCare At Home also operates the Community Hospice at Cherry Meadows and the ThedaCare Hospice Residence on the Peabody–Heritage campus in Appleton.

ThedaCare™ is a community health system consisting of five hospitals: Appleton Medical Center, Theda Clark Medical Center, New London Family Medical Center, Shawano Medical Center, and Riverside Medical Center in Waupaca. ThedaCare also includes ThedaCare Physicians, ThedaCare Behavioral Health, and ThedaCare at Home. ThedaCare is the largest employer in Northeast Wisconsin with more than 6,175 employees. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.