When Dr. Casey walks into a room, he brings a smile to everyone’s face.
“He’s a love,” said Denise Kowalski, a nurse manager at Carolinas Medical Center-Pineville.
“Dr. Casey,” as he is known at CMC-Pineville, is an almost 2-year-old, certified pet therapy dog. At 58 pounds with fluffy white hair, Dr. Casey is a easygoing and loving goldendoodle, a mix of poodle and golden retriever.
“Casey is three-quarters poodle and one-quarter goldendoodle,” said Karen Hale, Dr. Casey’s owner. “Casey is hypoallergenic, so he can be around children and adults.”
Hale, a Carmel Station resident, retired from finance in 2008 and is a part-time barista at Starbucks. She and Casey started volunteering at memory care centers in August 2012 and at CMC-Pineville in November.
Hale got the idea to do pet therapy from friends who had therapy dogs.
“They would tell me wonderful stories,” said Hale. “I could see their love and commitment to it, and they would express that their animals loved it too.”
Hale and her husband, Doug, also have a 7-year-old Australian shepherd, Dee Dee, who is not a therapy dog.
“Herding dogs are so energetic,” said Hale. “If we had sheep, goats, she’d be out there working every single day.”
Casey was a better breed for pet therapy. He started training at 8 weeks old and has completed Puppy 101, Intermediate Training, Advanced Training, AKC Good Citizenship Training, and Certified Pet Therapy with Therapy Dogs International.
Hale designates Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, for visits to four facilities: Charlotte Square, Elmcroft of Little Avenue, CMC-Pineville, and Carmel Place.
“Casey brings such joy to the residents of the memory care facilities,” said Hale. “When we walk into the room where the residents gather they hold out their arms and say, ‘Casey, you have come to visit me!’ Then they will tell me of dogs they had when growing up – each time with vivid details.”
“Karen and Casey come faithfully every Friday,” said Mairym Arthur-Wong, personal care director at Charlotte Square. “They bring a smile to the residents. Casey will sit there and let them pet him. He is very well-behaved.”
At CMC-Pineville, the staff loves Dr. Casey as much as the patients do.
“It’s healing,” said Kowalski. “Best therapy ever. A dog lowers (patients’) blood pressures, lowers their heart rates, and calms them. People come here dealing with a lot of stress, anger, depression, bargaining and denial. (A therapy dog) helps the situation a lot more.”
There are seven therapy dogs at CMC-Pineville. They and their handlers are registered volunteers, which means they have gone through a rigorous screening process including an interview and on-the-job training.
“Karen is a ray of sunshine when she walks in the door,” said Susan Morris, director of volunteer services/gift shop, CHS-Pineville. “She is excited to be here, and Dr. Casey is excited about it.”
At CMC-Pineville, Dr. Casey and Karen visit the day surgery waiting room, the ICU waiting room, the ER, and the third and fourth floors where they visit patients who would like a therapy dog visit, plus the staff, said Hale.
“These pet therapy visits do just as much for the staff as they do for the patient,” said Morris.
Gerald O’Keefe, a member and volunteer at St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church, calls Hale if he thinks that a patient would benefit from a visit.
“They frequently tell me how good Casey made them feel, and he raises their spirits, and helps them in their healing,” said O’Keefe.
Roy Whitehead, an artist and retired industrial designer, saw Dr. Casey before leaving the hospital. After petting Dr. Casey, Whitehead started reminiscing about the special dogs in his life.
“The idea of having a dog visit me is so really nice,” said Whitehead. “It touched me.”
Hale plans to increase Casey’s visits when she eventually retires. In May, they will begin training for hospice and palliative care.
Hale and Casey love their pet therapy visits.
“It’s a blessing and a calling,” said Hale.
Marissa Brooks is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marissa? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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