Dogs Making A Difference

November 18, 2013 Updated Jun 27, 2014 at 11:46 AM EDT

By Desiree Wiley

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November 18, 2013 Updated Jun 27, 2014 at 11:46 AM EDT

Dena Sterns, Child Life Specialist at Women and Children’s Hospital, is helping spread joy.

Sterns helped co-found the therapy dog program at the hospital 14 years ago.

“We have a huge number of dogs, nearly 26,” says Sterns.

Some dog handlers have been with the program since its start. The Child Life department at the hospital helps patients and families cope within the hospital setting. Their mission is to reduce stress felt by families.

“Dog therapy really feeds into that mission, because it really reduces the stress. The dogs help people get through that bad day,” said Sterns.

These four-legged friends not only service the patient, but families and staff too.

Stern says, “I tell dog therapy handlers, right from the parking lot you’ll be stopped. Sometimes it takes them a half an hour to get into the building.”

Once they’re in, everyone feels the excitement. Patients and staff can never get to many strokes of canine fur.

Heidi Keleher, a Registered Nurse in the Pediatric ICU, says the dogs are calming.

“I had a day that was as sad as you could ever anticipate. I was going well over the end of my shift,” says Keleher. “One of my favorite dogs, who visits a little earlier, stayed for me.”

Keleher says she will never forget what the dogs have done for her.

The dogs enjoy the experience just as much as the visitors. Therapy dog volunteer, Jean Johansson, says her dog Jasper is always ready for a visit.

“He loves to see his kids,” says Johansson.

Jasper and all the other dogs are loved too.

“It eases people’s stress. They seem so happy after. People are incredibly thankful for being able to see the dogs,” explains Johansson. “It makes their stay.”