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July 16, 2019


ThedaCare Hospice Offers Assessment, Training in Waupaca, Shawano and Appleton

Photo Caption: Fitzgerald is a therapy dog for those in hospice care with ThedaCare Hospice and Palliative Care. ThedaCare is seeking to assess and train new human-canine partners as hospice dog therapy volunteers this fall.

July 16, 2019


ThedaCare Hospice Offers Assessment, Training in Waupaca, Shawano and Appleton

APPLETON, Wis. – It is entirely possible that your well-behaved dog could make the perfect partner as a ThedaCare Hospice pet therapy volunteer. This is what Molly Johnson of Canine Comfort knows to be true.

“Patients and families love the companionship they receive from a dog and their handler,” said Johnson. “Research has shown that pet therapy decreases stress hormones and increases the release of the feel-good hormone, oxytocin. It’s evident in watching people interact with the dog that they are feeling happier and more peaceful during and after a visit.”

Johnson is a nationally-known Wisconsin-based dog trainer who contracts with ThedaCare to help guide the pet therapy program. Right now, ThedaCare Hospice has about 40 trained canine-human partners. There is a waiting list for hospice patients and families to get visits from these soothing, furry friends and their handlers.

The hospice pet therapy program is made possible through the generosity of donors of the ThedaCare Family of Foundations. Funding provides training for handlers and their dogs, training resources and therapy dog vests.

Johnson has the expertise to determine if you and your pup are the right fit for this meaningful work.

“Therapy dog candidates must be very calm and very polite; this means four paws on the ground at all the times,” she said. “They need to be calm in new places, on new surfaces, and around new sounds, kids, other dogs, and even new things like beards, hats, and sunglasses.”

During an initial meeting, Johnson will meet with the dog and their handler to conduct a comprehensive assessment. Generally, therapy dogs need to be over a year old, and many are older. 

Johnson and her counterpart at ThedaCare, Sara Wesoloski, BSN, RN, ThedaCare Manager of Hospice and Palliative Care, agree the calling to pet therapy for hospice patients is not just about dogs.

“It’s mostly about a warm and patient human who chooses to share his or her pet with a person and family who is experiencing the end of a life,” said Wesoloski. “It creates a special bond between the pets and those families.”  

Johnson explained most volunteers can expect about one to two visits per week, on a day that works for the family and volunteer.

Assessment and orientation for pet therapy providers is completed in stages. First, an initial canine assessment is set with Johnson. Then, if the dog is ready to become a pet therapy volunteer, the human completes 15 hours of classroom volunteer orientation through ThedaCare Volunteer Services. In the meantime, the human-canine partners sign up for this fall’s free two-day training class and certification held in Appleton, Shawano and Waupaca, specifically for ThedaCare pet therapy volunteers.

“The companionship of a dog throughout life can be such a joy and support,” Wesoloski said. “We have the ability to bring this joy to people at the end of life, and there are dog-owners and dogs that can help us make it happen. Coming together like this is truly what it means to be a community of caregivers.”

To set up an initial assessment of your dog with Molly Johnson of Canine Comfort, please call 920.716.1890 or email

To help support continued financial needs, you can 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. 

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization serves a community of more than 600,000 residents and employs more than 7,000 healthcare professionals throughout the regions. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 31 clinics in nine 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.

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.

Media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public Relations Specialist at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.