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Therapy dog brings joy to patients and staff at St. Francis
Susan Evans and her black German shepherd mix, Jasper, are a regular sight walking through the halls and rooms of St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way.
The duo are members of Pet Partners, a non-profit organization run out of Bellevue that provides therapy animals to those who need them.
Whether it's a hospital, a nursing home, or schools, duos like Evans and Jasper bring an unmeasurable amount of happiness to those who find themselves struggling to see the good in their situation.
For Evans, the first time she met Jasper was an indication that he might be a special dog.
"When we adopted Jasper at six weeks old, it was in a setting where there were many, many dogs, and it was chaotic, and he was very calm," Evans recalled. "I've had dogs all my life, and this was an indication to me that there was something very, very special about him."
Evans said that she realized during the course of Jasper's training that he could make it in a program like Pet Partners. The program requires a rigorous training certification because of the environments the animals visit regularly.
"Before you even start (Pet Partners), the dog has to be very well trained," she said. "In our instance, we did obedience training, advanced obedience training and K-9 Good Citizen. The Pet Partners certification is similar to the K-9 Good Citizen, in terms of whether or not he can be around other people and other dogs."
The certification also exposes the dogs to medical equipment, people wearing long robes, hospital gowns, and some of the emotions that go on between patients and families at hospitals, she said.
Toni Myhre, volunteer coordinator at St. Francis, said that Evans and Jasper's contribution to the hospital is immense.
"I just know from what I hear, what a blessing it is to have the animals come and visit not only the staff, but the patients as well. It just creates a different environment for them for calm," she said. "A lot of patients don't have the option to bring in their animals, and if you're an animal lover like me, to be able to visit with an animal, even if it's not your own, has that calming and loving feeling, that unconditional love I think people like to see."
Myhre said the pet therapy program has been in the Franciscan system for at least a decade. She's been an employee for 11 years and has always remembered the program being present at the hospitals.
In the few years that Evans and Jasper have visited patients, heartwarming stories have become commonplace.
"We always ask before we go in a room if they would like a visit," Evans said, recalling one particular visit. "And instead of a yes or no, I heard a big chuckle. That's not the typical reaction. So we went into the room and the man had one of his arms propped up, so Japser immediately walked over to his other side, and the gentleman started petting him, and Jasper started giving his care. And the man said, 'You know what's ironic? I'm in here because a dog bit my other hand.'"
Evans recalled another time they visited a man who was very depressed, and who was expressing his desire to no longer live.
"Jasper is sitting with his head on the gentleman's knee, and he's stroking him and petting him. About 10 or 15 minutes later, he said, 'You know, I feel so much better.' And he said, 'Look!' He showed me his blood pressure monitor and his number was way down. He said Jasper was the first blessing of his day."
"Literally, we get a story like that every week, minimum," Evans added.
For those interested in participating, Evans and Myhre both said that the most difficult hoop to jump through is the Pet Partners certification. For any animals active in the program, especially if they visit hospitals regularly, there are heightened hygiene and grooming concerns that need to be met on a weekly basis.
On top of that, any costs associated with participating in either program are borne by the animal owners themselves. Regardless, Evans can't think of a better activity to do with her four-legged friend.
"It's absolutely worth it because of the benefits I see that he gives to everybody," she said.
To learn more about Pet Partners, visit www.petpartners.org.