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June 24, 2014

Paws Down Pet Therapy in Shawano Expands

Hospice patients, their families and volunteers in the Shawano area are celebrating one year of pet therapy with an August training program for new volunteer pets and their handlers

Dogs Bring Peace, Build Volunteer Base for Shawano Area ThedaCare At Home Hospice Patients

Hospice patients, their families and volunteers in the Shawano area are celebrating one year of pet therapy with an August training program for new volunteer pets and their handlers. 

Are you wondering if your dog a therapy dog at heart? “Dogs who make excellent therapy dogs have a special look in their eyes. It’s not all about training. It’s more about temperament. These dogs would choose people over anything else. They enjoy attention without being pushy,” explained Molly Johnson, of Canine Comfort, LLC, in Neenah, a certified dog trainer with special expertise in therapy dogs who leads ThedaCare’s hospice training program for humans and their dogs.

Bonduel Police Chief Todd Chaney and his wife Sue are trained handlers for their golden retriever rescue dog named Bear who was certified as a pet therapy dog last year. As hospice volunteers, they visit nursing homes, family homes and hospitals with Bear. “We visit hospice patients about twice a week for about 30 minutes, but then we always walk around the facility. All of the residents have come to enjoy Bear’s visits. It’s a great way to be of service to our community.”

Dogs like Bear are trained to greet all people with “four paws on the ground,” explained Johnson. When given the command to “cuddle,” they rest their heads on a person’s lap. “The dog does most of the work,” she said. “The handlers, the humans, use the dog as a springboard for starting a conversation with the patient or his or her family. Our goal is to reinvigorate people with our visit, to focus on something positive, other that the heavy issues at hand.”

Kathy Micoley, RN, team leader for ThedaCare At Home hospice services in the Shawano area, sees pets re-energize Alzheimer’s patients. “I have patients who don’t remember my name, but ask for Bear, the dog, every time I visit. The pet visits make a big impression, and patients who had dogs as children will tell us about them.”

The pet therapy program has also increased interest in the ThedaCare At Home Hospice program in the region. According to Angie Krueger, ThedaCare At Home Hospice volunteer coordinator, the Seymour and Black Creek areas have their first-ever team of hospice volunteers in training. “Hospice volunteers provide support, respite and grieving help to patients and their families. We believe hospice is about living, not dying. We help people live their best lives up until the very end. And the pet visits are some of the best moments.”

Friends of Hospice, a non-profit fundraising group in Shawano dedicated to the support and enhancement of hospice services in the region, funds both pet therapy and massage therapy for hospice patients in the amount of $5,000 per year. The group is also funding the creation of the hospice suite at ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano under construction at County B and Highway 22, Shawano.

Canine Comfort University is a three-day commitment. All training expenses are covered by Friends of Hospice. To register for the August training program or ask questions, contact Molly Johnson at

The 14th annual Shawano Medical Center Foundation Women’s Golf Outing on July 30 at Golden Sands in Cecil will feature both pet therapy and massage therapy, wine tasting, prizes and theme holes at the scramble-style event. To learn more, please contact Linda Gilbert, executive director of the Shawano Medical Center Foundation and Friends of Hospice, at (715) 526-7149 or

Donations are always appreciated. The mailing address for the SMC Foundation and Friends of Hospice is 309 N. Bartlett Street, Shawano WI 54166.

ThedaCare™ is a community health system consisting of seven hospitals: Appleton Medical Center, Theda Clark Medical Center, ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano, Shawano Medical Center, and Riverside Medical Center in Waupaca. Community Health Network, which includes Community Memorial Hospital in Berlin, and Wild Rose Memorial Hospital are in the process of affiliating with ThedaCare. ThedaCare also includes ThedaCare Physicians, ThedaCare Behavioral Health, and ThedaCare At Home. ThedaCare is one of the largest employers in Northeast Wisconsin with more than 6,175 employees. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.