The pet therapy program at Sentara features dogs of every shape and size. Working with their handlers, these special volunteers bring joy and comfort to patients.

Sentara pet therapy program brings joy, comfort to patients

They say that volunteers are the heart of every hospital. Nowhere is that more true than at Sentara, where volunteers can be found greeting visitors, transporting patients, working in the gift shop and offering support to patients and staff.

Some of the volunteers are really a different breed - literally. Volunteers like Bodie, a golden retriever, or Emma, a shih tzu. Bodie visits pediatric patients each week before they head to surgery. Emma is small enough to sit in a lap or share space on the hospital bed of patients who need some extra comfort.

These pet volunteers and their handlers work in healthcare settings throughout Sentara only after intense training and a rigorous evaluation. They need to be calm and comfortable in a variety of settings and situations. It is safe to say this group has no fear of needles … at least not when they are volunteering with patients.

These volunteers wander with their handlers in search of patients who may want a four-legged visitor for a brief time. Patients often welcome the distraction and enjoy talking with handlers about everything from their own pets at home to the process of training a dog.

Therapy dogs can be as varied as the patients they visit. There is no specific breed for this task, just an obedient, relaxed personality willing to offer companionship and cheer. And if you happen to have a treat to share, they really like that too.