Meet Our Volunteers: Pet Therapy

Walking through the halls of Firelands Regional Medical Center you might expect to see doctors, nurses and family members of patients. But there are also a few little furry-faces who have become widely recognized throughout the facility.

Sometimes the Smallest Volunteers Have the Biggest Impact

Meet two of our smallest volunteers, Shelby and Quincy, along with their handlers, Bill and Judy Hoskin. Quincy and Shelby are a small toy breed of dog called a Havanese. But don’t let their small stature fool you, they have played a big role in some patient’s recovery! 


We got a call about a patient who had heart surgery two weeks prior and was not responding,” said Judy Hoskin. “They asked if we would bring Shelby in because she is small and quiet and the lady had a Dachshund at home.” 

The patient, Karen, had a negative reaction to long-term heart medication, incurring enough damage to require a quadruple bypass. When she remained unconscious longer than expected, Karen’s nurse, requested the pet therapy. 

“We went in, Bill worked with the family with Quincy and I worked on the patient with Shelby. We took her hand, stroked Shelby and spoke with her,” said Judy. “We visited her every two days.”

Four days after their initial visit, Judy and Shelby entered the room to find Karen off the respirator, sitting up and smiling. Judy said that is just one of their many stories.

"They didnt know she could speak. But she spoke to the dog."

During the beginning of their volunteering experience, the Hoskins had just certified their therapy dog with the Delta Society, now known as Pet Partners, when they had one of their first life changing experiences.

“We were [at the hospital] and a nurse was taking vitals when we walked into a patient room. She said go ahead and put the dog on the bed,” said Judy. “This older patient frowned at the dog, touched the dog, took the dog with both hands and started talking to the dog…”

shelbywebShelby, a 6-year-old Havanese, takes a break on handler Judy's lap.

During the rest of their visit, the patient never even looked at Bill or Judy.

“The nurse got tears in her eyes and left the room,” said Judy. “We were like ‘what’s going on?’”

While the patient continued to pet and talk to her new furry friend, Bill and Judy told her fun information about their therapy dog. Every few minutes a nurse would peek in, dab their eyes and then walk away. Bill and Judy were very confused.

“When we were all done we came out and asked what was going on,” recounted Judy. “They said the patient had been on the medical floor for three weeks and had just been up to rehab. She never spoke a word. They didn’t know she could speak.”

“But she spoke to the dog.”

Bill and Judy have been volunteering in the Pet Therapy program at Firelands with their dogs for over 20 years. 

“We were here one day and there was a woman in the lobby with a dog and we said why do you have a dog here? And the woman told us about the pet therapy program here,” said Judy. “We contacted Anne McGookey and started working with our [West Highland White Terrier] at rehab on a regular basis.”

After their first day of volunteering, Bill and Judy both loved it. It was something that they could do as a family and they have been doing it together ever since. 

Get Involved in the Pet Therapy Program

The Hoskins are only one of the many families that volunteer with the Pet Therapy program. Do you think you have a furry friend that might bring joy to patients? 

shelbywebThe Hoskins visit with a patient.

The hospital does not require the dogs to be certified in Pet Therapy, but there are some requirements;

“While we encourage certification with Pet Partners, we do not require this status.  Rather we vet the animals by doing a preliminary ‘walk through’ in the area which the animal will serve,” said Anne McGookey, director of Volunteer Services. “The criteria to become a pet visitor is friendly, easy-going and enjoys lots of attention."

"A comfort level around wheelchairs, medical equipment, noises and scents associated with hospitals are crucial. Their shots and veterinary visits must be current, and they must be bathed prior to each visit.”

The handlers must also complete the standard process of becoming a volunteer:  TB test, background check and general orientation.

Read more stories about our Pet Therapy dogs in the upcoming winter issue of the Feel Better magazine or to volunteer, visit our website and complete the Sign Up to Be a Volunteer form.