Jacobi Medical Center in need of volunteers for new dog therapy program

Dan Smith brings his dog, Tucker to visit a patient in the pediatric wing at Jacobi Medical Center.
Photo Courtesy of Jacobi Medical Center

Jacobi Medical Center staff know the key to a kid’s heart: a pooch.

The center is currently seeking individuals who would like to be part of volunteer program for a very good cause; bringing smiles to the faces of patients in their pediatrics unit.

Dan Smith and his dog Tucker have become experts.

“Every time we visit pediatrics, something extraordinary happens,” Dan said. “Patients and staff smile, laugh, and even wrap their arms around Tucker. Once we visited a young boy at his bedside who had recently undergone leg surgery and upon doctor’s orders was to begin walking a little at a time – but he was afraid.

“His mother asked if her son could walk Tucker up the corridor of the unit, and next thing you know her son was putting on his sneakers and being helped out of bed. Holding Tucker’s leash and with Tucker at his side, he has the courage to take his first steps.”

Smith, who has been volunteering at the hospital for about a year said the experience has been very rewarding.

Lana Wechsler, volunteer therapy dog coordinator for the medical center said bringing the dogs in to interact with the children temporarily distracts the children from remembering they are sick.

“While it may seem like a simple thing, it is in fact a simply magnificent thing to so quickly and easily improve a patients mood by providing a therapy dog visit,” Wechsler said. “I hear heartwarming stories all the time. For instance, there is a woman on rehabilitation medicine who cried tears on happiness because the therapy dog reminded her of her pet at home. In general, therapy dogs are experts in smile therapy and when they come into the hospital, the joy level rises and the anxiety level lowers.

The program, which started about a year ago, currently has three active volunteers.

New volunteers will be offered dog therapy classes, at no cost, in exchange for agreeing to visit patients for a minimum of one hour, twice a month, for six months.

Volunteers are needed in pediatrics and rehabilitation medicine at Jacobi Medical Center as well as geriatric psychiatry and also in partial hospitalization at North Central Bronx Hospital.

Dogs that will qualify to become certified should be good natured, enjoy people, be capable of executing basic commands, and up to date with vaccinations.

Volunteer classes will include screening, six class training sessions and final testing.

Classes will be held at Jacobi on Mondays from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., starting Monday, September 10.

Anyone interested in the screening process or finding out more information can call (718) 918-7528.

Kirsten Sanchez can be reach via e-mail at ksanchez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3394

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