Chesapeake Regional Medical Center restarts therapy dog program after pandemic pause
Lucy’s the talk of the cardiac floor at the Chesapeake Regional Medical Center. She’s not a new doctor or nurse. She’s … fuzzier.
Lucy’s a seven-year-old golden retriever – and one of the first therapy dogs to return to the hospital since the pandemic forced the program to shut down three years ago.
The pup and her fellow canines are part of a program within Chesapeake Regional called Welcome Waggers.
One of many volunteer programs at the hospital, Welcome Waggers started in 2007. Stopped abruptly during COVID, it slowly picked back up as restrictions were lifted. Dogs came back to visit the lobby in 2022. But they still couldn’t visit patient rooms — until now.
Lucy’s owner, Susan Stanitski, volunteers them both for the program. She said Lucy was brought to the U.S. from Turkey in 2016 — and when Susan met her, she knew immediately Lucy would be perfect for therapy.
“I love to share her,” Stanitski said. “Because she’s got a lot of love.”
Lucy sits with patients, gets scratches, and brings out smiles in everyone she visits – patients and staff alike.
One patient told WHRO the therapy dogs bring a sense of normalcy to the nerve-racking cardiac ward.
Another said they “become part of your life.”
The majority of these patients are hooked up to monitors and other instruments, unable to leave the cardiac unit. Lucy snakes her way between the wires and bed to put her head on their laps.
“Patients are very sick. Sometimes they don't have the outcomes we would like,” said Chesapeake Regional care manager Dianna Francisco. “And when the dogs come in, they have joy and happiness. Even if it's only for 5 minutes, they don't have to worry about needles and tests and medicines.”
She said the program is equally helpful for the wellbeing of staff.
“I think they make us feel better than the patients!” one nurse called out while giving Lucy a pat on the belly on a recent morning.
Lucy’s toothy smile and wagging tail are a bright spot for everyone — and they’re all glad she’s back.