Geisinger staff members meet pet therapy dog | News

DANVILLE — Four of Geisinger’s frontline staff members were introduced to a new friend Tuesday morning at the Henry Hood Center on the Danville campus. They met Tucker, a 5-year-old Sheltie in Geisinger’s pet therapy program, meant to de-stress staffers as they continue to work through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tucker, whose tail was wagging furiously, immediately won everyone over with his mild and friendly disposition.

Staffers James Gould, an operations manager, Brandi McDonald, also an operations manager, and RNs Colby Faust and Melissa Shambach took turns petting Tucker, who seemed to be enjoying every minute.

Dogs and their handlers must go through Geisinger volunteer training with the volunteer services department before serving. Only dogs certified by an American Kennel Club recognized program are eligible.

This program is part of the Geisinger volunteer services program, said Arion Moser, volunteer services, program manager.

“We have individual volunteers, whose dogs are certified as therapy dogs. They are currently for staff,” he said. The program was also available for patients before the pandemic.

Tucker’s handler is Barbara Yoder, or Nescopek. She has been training Tucker since he was two years old.

The handler takes requests from whatever hospital department needs the pet. After that, a support session is held.

It’s proven that these dogs de-stress people, even if they are able to pet the dogs for 30 seconds up to five minutes, she said.

There is no one particular breed of dog best suited to be pet therapy dogs, Moser said. “We’ve had German Shepherds, labs, some of the doodle variety, golden doodle. They are all certified before they can come here.”

The dog’s personality traits are critical to whether he will be suitable as a pet therapy dog, Yoder said.

They have to have a calm demeanor.

“They have to be able to not get upset by loud voices or somebody passing by, be it in a wheel chair or a walker. Unusual situations, heavy equipment if you are in a hospital, rolling by you,” she said. “They have to learn to not touch anything on the floor. and listen to a command, ‘leave it,’ and several things like that.”

Tucker is not new to the Geisinger program, Yoder said.

“He has been doing therapy visits since November 2019. He was doing it for six months and then the pandemic hit. So we had to take a little bit of a break,” Yoder said.

While the program continues to provide comfort to Geisinger patients in its hospitals throughout Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania, it also has increasingly served hospital staff members through the pandemic over the past two years.

“Our pet therapy program brings a great benefit to patients and staff,” said Tina McDowell, director of volunteer services. “By volunteering, you can help decrease stress levels and provide a much-needed positive experience for our frontline staff who might be feeling overwhelmed by the effects of the ongoing pandemic. Just a few minutes of comfort and relief can improve overall mental wellbeing.”

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