Gracie offers a paw of comfort.
Gracie, a golden doodle living in Urbandale, loved her job. She accompanied her owner, Mary Hester, on visits to Methodist, Blank and Lutheran hospitals throughout her 12-year tenure as a therapy dog. There, she visited sick patients, providing cheer to the visitors and staff by offering her paw to hold hands with patients.
Hester began training Gracie as a puppy. At the time, her middle school-aged daughter had quit sports. Hester was looking for things to do, so they did obedience training.
“It was something my daughter and I could do together,” she says. “It was also to help get her out of her shell.”
During training, Hester thought Gracie’s demeanor was perfect for a therapy dog.
“It (therapy dogs) wasn’t as popular back then as it is today,” she remembers.
Hester first began taking Gracie to nursing homes and schools. Before long, she became a regular at the three hospitals.
“I really enjoyed going to the hospital,” she says. “It makes a difference with the patients. Some kids miss their dogs while in the hospital, so a visit from a dog gives them joy.”
As a hospital employee, Hester says her fellow hospital staff members looked forward to Gracie’s visits. The nurses gave out collectible baseball cards with different dog photos. The patients’ faces brightened when they saw Gracie enter their room.
“For some people, she puts her paw up to them, just like holding their hand,” she says. “It’s like Gracie had a sixth sense that people needed her. She lingered longer with some patients than others. People chit-chatted and told me their stories about their pets. It takes their mind off their pain.”
Often times, after working all day, it took a great deal of effort to go back out again.
“Some days I didn’t want to go,” she admits. “But later it all felt worthwhile. It was my way of giving back to the hospital.”
Gracie felt the same, too.
“Something amazing happened after a visit,” Hester explains. “It wore her out. It made a difference for both of us. It seems like Gracie got something out of it, too.”
However, in the past year, Grace recently had to hang up her leash on her therapy visits.
“She’s 14 years old,” says Hester. “It’s tough getting her in and out of the car because of her arthritis.”
Hester did get another dog, Ernie, to bring on visits, but she learned that he didn’t like people, so Mary stopped the training. She still hopes to find a dog with the right temperament.
Recently Millie, her adult daughter’s dog, joined the family. Millie, a 3-year-old black lab, enjoys playing with her sister, Gracie.
“They’re just like your best buddy,” says Hester. “They’re here all the time. It’s nice having them around.” ♦