Furry visitors help make a difference at Montgomery hospital

Patient Jeff Claverio enjoys some time with the therapy dogs.
Patient Jeff Claverio enjoys some time with the therapy dogs.

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - It's another day at Jackson Hospital, another special day for patient Charles Henderson.

"Hey Bear,!" said Henderson.

'Special' because Bear has paid a call. Henderson says there is no doubt the dog makes him feel better, perhaps more so than the medication he's on.

"I like it when he just sits in my lab," Henderson said of the mix.

Dogs like Bear are now regulars throughout Jackson Hospital. They're therapy dogs trained by Frances McGowin.

"There are several levels of testing. Some of that includes a stress test in which we squeeze their faces, pull their ears, hug them close, anything a child would do," said McGowin.

But Shelly Hendrikson is the one who made it possible.

Before Shelly arrived, Jackson Hospital didn't have the Dogs on Call program. Now it does and it was Shelly who paved the way. She is the one who had to convince doctors and nurses.

"These dogs really help when a patient is concerned and upset about their medical situation," said Hendrikson.

Hendrikson says this is not a new concept. Therapy dogs visiting hospitals is a growing trend nationwide and it has been now for about 7 years.

The dogs go to Jackson Hospital three times a week with their handlers and visit patients except those in intensive care.

On this day we are on the 6th floor, the orthopedic floor. Jeff Claverio might as well have thrown a bone because he made a friend or rather.. 'Molly' befriended him.

"They do lift your spirits," said Claverio.

To be clear these animals don't just go to Jackson Hospital sit and wag their tails. Even those who've been around dogs for many years still say the non-verbal communication between the animal and man is something close to magical, a connection that really can't be explained.

"Goodbye Bear," Henderson said as he patted the dog.

Charles Henderson, Jeff Claverio, two patients who forgot about their ailments for a moment and enjoyed the company of Molly and Bear, no words spoken, no words needed.. just a healthy dose of unconditional love with a healing touch.

To learn more about Dogs on Call check out the website at: www.dogsoncall.com

Copyright 2011 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.