By Anna Gheen
Millie wanders through the hospital, eyes wide with curiosity. Full of unusual sounds and smells, there is plenty here to distract her… including bits of food left under tables
and crumbs that have fallen beneath beds. But the distraction is short-lived.
At a signal from Chaz, her handler, she cheerfully greets another patient, serenading them with song and entertaining them with a variety of tricks. A Corgie-cross, Millie is one of three therapy animals (including a cat named Yuki) who frequent the sixth floor of Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC).
“Millie just loves this,” Chaz explains “I get out her red bandana and she starts to get excited. She knows exactly where we are going.”
Chaz and Millie have been volunteering regularly at both EIRMC and the Behavioral Health Center for several years now. Certified by Intermountain Therapy Animals both are experts at providing relief from the frustrations which accompany long-term hospital stays.
Today, Millie is working with a stroke patient who is more than a little fed-up with the prodding of her physical therapist. As they make their way down the hall, Millie stops to pay a visit to several friends from previous visits.
Chaz grins as she rolls over, exposing her belly for a pat. “People’s guards come down when they start talking about their animals. It’s like they forget where they are.”
It isn’t hard to see why. After days and sometimes weeks in the hospital, patients are eager to enjoy a bit of companionship. Millie’s joyful demeanor, and friendly kisses, are a gentle reminder of a world that exists beyond the sterile hallways of the hospital. She helps call to memory the old adage that where there is life, there is hope.
Unfortunately, with visits lasting from fifteen minutes to nearly an hour in the case of assisted therapy, there simply isn’t any way for Chaz and Millie to bring that hope to the entire sixth floor… much less visit the patients on other floors who are equally in need of companionship.
“You can see she’s getting tired,” Chaz says, pointing to the way Millie is beginning to limp. Between knee surgery and the challenge posed to her balance by the slick hospital floors, an hour or two is long enough.
“If there’s one thing I’d like to see,” Chaz confides, “it’s more pets and handlers. The certification training was fairly easy. With animals, the primary thing they’re looking for is a lack of aggression. Millie passed her training in an afternoon.”
When asked how long it took him to pass, Chaz grins and admits to having taken three months to work his way through the manual. But it was clearly worth the investment.
Intermountain Therapy’s website is quick to add that anyone can become a certified handler, even without a pet. All it takes is a compassionate spirit and a willingness to serve. Chaz, Millie, and the other Pet Partners working at EIRMC have these in abundance.
To find out how you can make a difference, visit Intermountain Therapy Animals. Chaz and Millie hope to see you soon!