Planetree Animal Therapy Teams of the Year
Jake of Longmont United Hospital
Jake joined the TAILS program at Longmont United Hospital in December 2010 and has thoroughly enjoyed his job ever since. His first visit was to a family friend who spent over a month in the hospital. All along the way to the room, Jake brought lots of smiles to people and loved all the attention and petting he received, so he thought this was the best job ever! He has since made friends with many of the staff, as well as the patients.
Jake’s favorite visiting spot at the hospital is the Intensive Care Unit waiting area. He normally heads straight to the desk attendant for a treat and then looks for people to visit. But one day was much different. Just inside the doorway were four ladies surrounded by pillows and blankets. They had obviously been there for days.
When approaching a group of people, Jake generally goes directly to the closest person, but this time he headed straight for the woman who was the furthest away. At first, he didn’t even acknowledge the other three friends; he focused solely on this woman and sat down right in front of her. As soon as she saw him, she started crying and reached out for him. After a couple minutes, she stopped crying and began talking. Jake took this time to greet the others, but immediately went back and sat down in front of his new friend.
As Jake’s handler, I wished I could become invisible, because he was doing what comes naturally to him. He never needed direction; he just visited with this group of ladies and was drawn to the woman he sensed needed his attention. I learned that her husband of 17 years was in a coma; what started as an asthma attack quickly turned into a life-threatening event her husband might not survive. As she talked, mostly just to Jake, he stayed close to her feet and positioned his head where she could easily reach to pet him. Occasionally, when she started to cry, Jake sat up so she could reach him more easily, and she petted his head and ears. When she calmed down again, he lay down at her feet.
When we left the waiting area I was fighting back tears. What an extraordinary example of how sensitive dogs are to human emotions and how they are able to respond so perfectly and naturally. It was a great honor to be there when this woman needed us. What she and her friends did not know is that Jake’s first year of life was spent tied up in someone’s back yard, rarely getting fed. Despite the early abuse he suffered, Jake was able to bury the past, like a bone, and move on to find a new family and job…and to love and be loved.
Annie of VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System
Annie is a Bearded Collie mix and regular volunteer at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System with her owner, Gloria VanAlstine. The day Gloria rescued Annie from a local animal shelter would turn out to be the luckiest day of Annie’s life. Gloria, who fosters dogs and is also a nurse, quickly realized that Annie was very ill. When Annie was just eight weeks old and six pounds, she underwent surgery to repair her heart for a condition called PDA (patent ductus arteriosus). Without surgery, Annie would have lived only six months. The surgery was expensive, but the community raised money to help pay for it. Area veterinarians donated their services. Gloria took Annie to the high school, where she taught Health Sciences, and her students helped care for Annie during recovery. It was there that Annie’s gift of unconditional love was revealed as she was cuddled and then cuddled back.
Today, Annie is a happy, healthy, active dog. She is a registered Therapy Dog with Therapaws of Michigan. Annie is also an active volunteer at area hospitals, schools, and nursing homes. She regularly visits the Ann Arbor VA Medical Center, the University of Michigan Medical Center, and the UM Mott Children’s Hospital. Annie is also a “READ” volunteer at local elementary schools, where children read aloud to a canine friend.
Because of Annie’s own medical history, she shares a special bond with patients. Like many patients, Annie had a life-threatening condition, but she beat it. Like many patients, Annie underwent major surgery, but she had a successful recovery with help and loving care from friends. One particular patient Annie helped was a man who was normally very confused, but he became visibly less confused during Annie’s visits. One day, Gloria was talking in the man’s room about how Annie’s job was to do pet therapy. Gloria commented, “It’s a tough job…,” and to everyone’s amazement, the man added, “…but someone’s got to do it!”
Seeing Annie today as a happy, friendly dog is inspiring to our Veteran patients. Gloria co-authored two books about Annie’s experiences, one for adults called “Annie’s Story,” and the other for children’s titled, “Annie’s Little Storybook.” Annie and Gloria give away these books to offer on-going encouragement and hope to patients facing their own medical challenges.
Gloria and Annie are also regular visitors to Planetree Retreats at the Ann Arbor VA to demonstrate the value of animal therapy. Faces light up when Annie visits! After visiting at the retreat, Annie makes rounds of the medical center, visiting Veterans in waiting areas, the CLC, and inpatient units. She also visits with HIOT (mental health) patients during their weekly group therapy sessions. Patients especially enjoy snuggling with Annie, reducing anxiety, loneliness and pain. Planetree participants enjoy Annie’s gift first hand as she gives them hugs and handshakes, and does her “tricks,” just like she does for the entire VA community.
Annie is a truly a valued member of the healthcare team at VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System!
Our other winners for each hospital or long term care facility