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Longtime volunteer Lois Longo recently added a gorgeous new therapy dog to our ranks at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Belle is the third therapy dog Lois has volunteered with at the hospital. Belle and her fellow volunteer dogs do a lot of good for patients and families at the hospital. They help:
Each year, more than 60 volunteers bring trained and registered therapy dogs to visit our patients and families through the Amerman Family Foundation Dog Therapy Program. We caught up with Lois and Belle to learn more about their experience volunteering at the hospital.
I heard about the volunteer opportunity through a friend. She was a teacher at Center for the Blind and they had a therapy dog group that visited her school. At the time (more than 12 years ago) the group turned out to be the organization that was visiting at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. It felt like it was our "calling,” and we began volunteering at the hospital shortly after.
Since I started volunteering at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, I’ve volunteered with three dogs—Shiro, Bernie and Belle. All three dogs are of the Great Pyrenees breed. I think the combination of how they look and act makes them ideal therapy dogs—they’re BIG. My three dogs have been between 95 and 135 pounds and they have the softest, longest white fur. Did I mention they are calm, gentle and approachable? They’re perfect for the children.
Seeing the impact of the dogs on the patients and families we visit.
It was sixteen years ago and I saw a segment on the news about dogs visiting the elderly. I remember the images clearly—the patients’ reactions to the brown eyes looking up at them and the wet noses nestled on their laps. I was moved by how simple and profound the interactions seemed to be. The warmth of the dogs leaning against them and the calming act of petting a dog over and over seemed to bring the people back to life.
Only a year after I saw the segment, I adopted a 5-month-old, 55-pound Great Pyrenees. She was so sweet. I knew she had the potential to make a lot of people happy as a therapy dog.
My first visit to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles was with Shiro, my first therapy dog. We were making our way around the floor we’d been assigned to visit. I entered a room, where a 10-year-old girl was just staring straight ahead. We entered her room slowly, trying to gauge whether she’d be interested in a dog visit or not. She gave no reaction. Shiro took her spot beside her bed and I asked the patient if she would like me to take a picture. (Back then, we took Polaroid photos of the patient and dog as a keepsake for the patient; nowadays we have our own trading cards that we leave behind). She still didn’t answer, but she seemed open to it. I took the picture and handed her the blank white photo. She had to adjust her staring eyes to check out the image, slowly but steadily coming into focus. As the photo developed, so did something far more amazing—a SMILE on her face. By the time the photo was clear and colorful, the patient was wearing a full smile and staring at her photo. We said goodbye and headed off toward the elevator, but a nurse started calling frantically after us. My first thought was that I must have done something wrong. I was new, I was nervous and I was not expecting the nurse to blurt out, “Thank you!” She went on to explain that the girl had been in a car accident with her brother and had just learned that he didn’t make it. As a result, she shut down and nothing could get her attention. And then we visited and made the unexpected breakthrough that got her smiling and focusing for a single positive moment. The nurse thanked us for “bringing the girl back.”