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DOGS WANTED: Therapy Program Helps Patients

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A metro program is looking for people and their four legged friends to help make a difference during a difficult time. The animal assisted therapy program started at UnityPoint Hospice last summer. Now, they're looking for more volunteers to comfort patients and their families.

When Chance walks into Taylor House, he knows he has a job to do. Handler Anna Childs says, "He recognizes my tag and his tag. He loves to come here."

The three year-old long coated German Shepard is a licensed therapy dog. Childs says, "He knows exactly when he gets here. He knows his job has started. His whole personality changes to a calm ready to work dog. It's actually very amazing."

He and Handler Anna Childs joined the Animal Assisted Therapy Program at Unity Point Hospice shortly after it started last summer. Now, he's one of 14 dogs walking the halls, visiting staff and sitting at the side of patients' beds as they receive end of life care.

Volunteer and Program Consultant Patty Kaplan says, "It's not just for the patient. It's also for the family. It's huge for the family, sometimes even more so because they are so uptight and scared and nervous about what's going on with their loved one that that moment to just sit with the dog is very very relaxing."

Organizers are looking for a few more good dogs to join the program. And, they say it takes more than just a friendly dog at home. Kaplan says, "For them to be able to walk loosely on a leash without pulling, to sit on command, those things are all very important, which we refer to as basic obedience. And all of those need to be performed without treats because we don't allow dogs to have treats at work."

Shifts are typically two hours. Chance visits two times every other week. And, Childs says he usually doesn't want to leave. She says, "It's very touching and you realize life is short, and you need to give while you can. And the fact that your dog is able to brighten someone's day, you couldn't ask for anything better."

Contact Jillian VanDonselaar to learn more about the animal assisted therapy program at UnityPoint Hospice. The number is (515) 557-3287 or e-mail

The application process takes several weeks and dogs must be immunized. Program leaders hope to find ten to fifteen qualified dogs to take part in a training class this summer.