Patient Samuel Wilson, a part-time Steamboat Springs resident, gets a much-welcomed visit from Poudre as part of the Heeling Friends program Thursday afternoon at the Yampa Valley Medical Center. Poudre and owner Cathy Shryock visit patients at the medical center on a regular schedule, helping to spread a little healing cheer.

Photo by John F. Russell

Patient Samuel Wilson, a part-time Steamboat Springs resident, gets a much-welcomed visit from Poudre as part of the Heeling Friends program Thursday afternoon at the Yampa Valley Medical Center. Poudre and owner Cathy Shryock visit patients at the medical center on a regular schedule, helping to spread a little healing cheer.

Pet therapy

Heeling Friends seeks recruits to comfort hospital patients

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If you go

What: Heeling Friends recruitment and training

When: March 17, 18 and 20

Where: TBA

Cost: Free

Call: 870-9037

For more information: Visit www.heelingfriend...>

— Lumbering onto a hospital bed with a lightly injured paw, Poudre, a 6-year-old Australian sheperd, is hard at work. Which means he's getting an ear rub from Yampa Valley Medical Center patient and part-time Steamboat Springs resident Samuel Wilson.

As a pet partner for the Heeling Friends program, Poudre teams up with owner and assistant program director Cathy Shryock twice a month to make the rounds at YVMC, offering a furry diversion to a variety of patients.

"They provide distraction from just being confined and lying in bed, and they also provide a break for the people who are there visiting," Shryock said of Poudre and the dogs and cats like him, who also visit residents at the Doak Walker Care Center.

While the program has about 15 animal-owner teams in service, Heeling Friends is preparing for a spring recruitment effort that Shryock hopes will double the number of participants.

Heeling Friends director Lynette Weaver said the program is looking for pet owners who are outgoing and have a solid handle on their dog or cat.

"You're looking for a warm, friendly personality in a person, and pretty much the same thing in the dog," Weaver said.

Pet partner teams are required to go through a three-day training, scheduled for March 17, 18 and 20. After that, teams are evaluated for basic obedience, demeanor and ability to handle stressful situations.

"We're looking for dogs that are really easy-going, down to earth, friendly, non-assertive and truly love people : what we're looking for is dogs that go to people as opposed to other dogs," Weaver said.

Pets must be at least 1 year old and with the same owner for at least six months. Owners must be at least 16 years old and willing to commit to the program for two years.

For pets that don't react well in hospitals, Weaver said the Heeling Friends R.E.A.D. program - a one-on-one with dogs and elementary school students to help instill confidence in their reading level - might be a good fit.

In either case, Weaver said Heeling Friends pets have an innate sense for putting people at ease. In hospital situations, that can mean relieving everything from pain to stress to high blood pressure.

"Especially if the dogs come closer to the bed, (the patients) kind of look at the dogs and go, 'Oh, a dog,' and suddenly that blood pressure drops and a smile comes to their face," Weaver said.

- To reach Margaret Hair, call 871-4204

or e-mail mhair@steamboatpilot.com.

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