Published on March 21, 2019

Pet Therapy Program Expands

Pet therapy dog, Tucker, with doc and handlers

One year ago, Nash UNC Health Care started its “Caring Canines of Nash” pet therapy program with two dogs, Elsie and Lily.

Due to its popularity and success, the program has expanded to seven registered therapy dogs and five handlers.

“Our pet therapy teams have now visited 387 patients, and they’ve even delivered Christmas ornaments, Valentine’s cards and flower baskets,” said Amy Winham, director of service and operational excellence at the hospital. “This program has been even more successful than we’d imagined, and our staff members seem to be enjoying the dogs as much as the patients. Hospital days can sometimes get long and for dog lovers, getting a visit from one of our caring canines can be a very uplifting and pleasant break in the day.”

The Mayo Clinic reports that the time spent petting a dog can bring on the “happiness bounce” for many patients. They are able to report feeling less tired or stressed, more optimistic and are looking forward to sharing their dog story with visitors. Family members and friends who are present during dog visits, as well as hospital staff, typically say they feel better, too, according to the report.

Tamera Dengler, with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Elsie, particularly enjoys her visits to Coastal Plain Hospital, the inpatient mental health facility located on the Nash UNC Health Care campus. About the welcomed visits, one patient wrote, “I was able to let go, focus on Elsie and release my love. This kind of pet therapy works and it might change someone’s way of thinking and save their life.”

Another patient shared, “Elsie is so beautiful and sweet. I’m being discharged soon and she made me look forward to seeing my babies so much ... two dogs and a cat.”

Caring Canines of Nash is a volunteer group and each team consists of a dog, its handler and an escort who assists during the visits. Dogs will always be on a short leash and the handler will accompany the dog at all times. Both dog and handler are registered with an accredited national organization, either Pet Partners or Alliance of Therapy Dogs.

“While the dogs get all the glory, it’s the handlers who do all the work — training the dogs, bathing them and brushing their teeth before visits, scheduling and keeping the dogs healthy,” said Leslie Spencer, Nash UNC’s manager of volunteer services. “Our handlers are Tamera Dengler (Elsie), Tosha Aldridge (Lily), Peggy Wendling, (Cooper and Tucker), Don Campbell (Amber and Ziva) and Lisa Holland (Birdie). They are all angels.”

Tosha Aldridge and Lily, sometimes known as Superdog, visit schools, churches, and the library in addition to their duties at the hospital. Tosha, along with Tamera Dengler, was instrumental in introducing and leading the pet therapy program at Nash UNC Health Care.

The hospital has a stringent process in place to ensure dogs are properly cleaned, vaccinated, well-trained and screened for appropriate behavior.

For more information on Caring Canines of Nash, call 252-962-8118.

News Media Contact

Kenyon "K.J." Askew, Jr., Public Relations and Marketing Specialist, at 252-962-8766 or by email.

If calling after hours, please dial the main hospital line at 252-962-8000 and ask to speak with the nursing supervisor on duty and identify yourself as a member of the news media. He or she will be able to assist you.

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