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June 28, 2016

Therapy Dogs Make Patients Happy

ThedaCare At Home Hospice provides four-legged volunteers that offer a unique service to help ease stress and anxiety among patients.

ThedaCare Seeking Canines as Demand for Grows  

ThedaCare At Home Hospice provides four-legged volunteers that offer a unique service to help ease stress and anxiety among patients.  

For that reason, ThedaCare Hospice Foundation supports the pet therapy program, by providing funding for both the training of the animals and their handlers in addition to the costs associated with obtaining training resources, insurance, and dog vests with a photo of the dog. “Through generous contributions, ThedaCare Hospice Foundation is pleased to provide funding for such a meaningful program in this community,” said Erin Tyink, regional development officer, ThedaCare Family of Foundations, noting that in the Waupaca and New London areas, the foundation has approved more than $5,500 for the project in 2016.  

“Research shows that pet therapy increases the feel good hormones and decreases the stress hormone, while providing decreased heart rates, reduced anxiety, feelings of loneliness and incidences of depression,” she added. “Empirically, we also know that pet therapy brings welcome change of routine to hospice patients and their families. We hear patients ask for ‘their’ therapy dog and family members note that their loved ones open up during and after visits.”  

The demand for therapy dogs at ThedaCare At Home Hospice is growing. “Patients and families love the companionship they receive from a dog and their handler,” said Sarah Lederer, ThedaCare At Home. “It offers an unique visit that brings back pleasant memories of a patient’s own pets, and many smiles. At present we have 14 teams, and due to the increasingly popularity of the dog visits, we are looking for more teams to help.”    

Molly Johnson, owner and consultant with Canine Comfort, LLC, agreed. “A hospice therapy dog team brings joy, comfort, and support to patients of all ages,” said Johnson. “Scientific studies show therapy dog visits reduce stress, alleviate pain, increase social interactions, and improve overall quality of life.”  

Comprehensive therapy dog training and registration will begin in August and is provided at no cost to handler by Johnson. Interested pet therapy volunteers should have interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate with many different people. They will also need to complete the 12 hours of hospice volunteer training.  

“Hospice therapy dogs can be any breed or size but must be very calm, gentle, and love people of all ages,” said Johnson. “They must be comfortable around medical equipment and walking on different surfaces. Dogs must be a minimum of a year old and be able to consistently and calmly greet people with all four paws touching the ground, walk politely on a four-foot leash, and have a well-developed relationship with their handler. Formal training is not required but the use of positive reinforcement training techniques is very important.”  

To learn more about pet therapy, please contact Molly Johnson at 920.716.1890 or email at   To learn more about becoming a volunteer for ThedaCare At Home Hospice, call Sarah Lederer at 920.716.2783 or email at    

To help support continued financial needs: make a gift online at or send contributions to ThedaCare Family of Foundations, 1818 N. Meade Street, Appleton, WI 54911, and indicate Pet Therapy and the location to restrict funding to in the memo line.  

For more than 100 years, ThedaCare™ has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 7,000 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 34 clinics in 14 counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.  ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center in Appleton opened in February. For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.