|A patient at Palos Community Hospital in Palos Heights, IL, pats and chats with Gracie, a 5-year old Pug who visits with patients as part of the hospital’s Wags Animal Assisted Therapy program. With them is Gracie’s owner, Local 701 member George Vojtech.|
After a long week spent diagnosing and repairing vehicles for Shirey Cadillac in Oak Lawn, IL, George Vojtech skips the usual forms of Friday night recreation and heads over to Palos Community Hospital in nearby Palos Heights, Illinois.
The 37-year Local 701 member is accompanied by Gracie, a vivacious five-year-old Pug and together they are part of the hospital’s unique “Wags Animal Assisted Therapy” program. More than 40 local animals and handlers volunteer to provide therapeutic visits for patients, who respond with reduced stress, decreased anxiety and lowered blood pressure, all ingredients to a speedy recovery.
“George would knock lightly on the patient’s door and then Gracie would take over,” said Local 701 Business Rep. Bob Lessmann, who accompanied the pair during a recent visit to the hospital. “The patient’s faces would visibly brighten at the sight of their visitors. I overheard many stories about the patients’ own pets and watched as they patted, hugged and carried on animated conversation with the very attentive Gracie.”
After each visit, which lasts about 5 minutes, George gives the patient a “collector card” with a picture of Gracie on the front and information about her on the back. The patients who have had visits from other therapy dogs proudly display their collection of cards in their room for all to see. “I am going to put this on my dresser mirror when I get home tomorrow,” a patient commented. “This really made my last day here special.”
In the course of one evening, Gracie interacted with fifteen patients, ten nurses, an ambulance crew and numerous visitors, guests and hospital staff. While most people are not accustomed to seeing dogs inside a hospital, the sight of Gracie with her hospital badge walking proudly down the hallway brought a smile to everyone she passed.