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Keep It PAWSitive

June 30, 2020

“I am reaching out to see if I can get coverage of a “Feel Good” story. Is there any way we can get noticed, to show there is still good happening in an otherwise painful world?” – Carol Willson Wagner

With the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11th, there was a halt placed on activities leading to the suspension of most sporting games, concerts, festivals, and public events.

The Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo were even officially rescheduled to a date beyond 2020, but not later than summer 2021, the first time in the 124-year history of the modern Olympics that the games have been postponed.

Even the therapy dogs for the St. Mary Medical Center and the St. Mary Rehabilitation Hospital in Langhorne had not been permitted to work for 12 weeks.

Therapy dogs have long been welcomed as “nonpharmacological interventions” providing distraction, comfort therapy, and relaxation for some hospitalized patients that can actually help many of them reach health goals and stay motivated during ICU stays. Who would ever have thought that dogs walking the halls of hospitals would become a common sight? The dogs visit many units in the hospital, including the emergency room, pediatrics, oncology, and patients’ rooms. Certified therapy dogs can also offer comfort to patients as they wait for their radiation therapy treatment.

Is medicine going to the dogs? Yes, but in a good way. They are spreading PAWSitivity!

The optimism and happiness a Therapy Dog visit can provide to a patient is one that cannot be measured by a doctor’s instruments or recorded on a patient’s chart, including emotional support, companionship, and socialization.

“But for now, there have been only ‘WindowVisits,’” explained Carol Willson Wagner.

The dogs were cut off from their regular work schedule when both people and dogs were quarantined, and they couldn’t go into the nursing homes or the hospitals.

They recently had a St. Mary’s Therapy Dogs Giving Back “perimeter parade” with many of the registered therapy dogs, beginning at the rear of the St. Mary building by the emergency entrance. “Some of the dogs wore bandanas. Doctors and nurses streamed out of the hospital to see the pets. This actually turned into a reward for the MDs and RNs and sort of a tribute to them. They had missed the dogs as well, and many of them even made signs for us!”

They are celebrities in the halls of St. Mary!

Carol has been active in this therapy dog program for over 12 years and she is anxiously waiting for a green light to go back to regular visits at St Mary’s and to the Capital Health Medical Center in Hopewell, N.J., with her Australian “Aussie” shepherd dog, named Colton.

Her daughter, Krista Caroline Baradziej, R.N. heads the Capital Health Medical Center pre-natal clinic.

All hospital visits are usually handled through the hospital’s Volunteer Department and Dennis P. Jarosz of volunteer services, who is also the lead volunteer for pet therapy, organizes many of the events at St. Mary.

Alliance of Therapy Dogs [ATD] is a national therapy dog organization providing testing, certification, registration, support, and insurance for members who volunteer with their dogs in animal-assisted activities. ATD is celebrating 30 years of sharing smiles and joy nationwide.

Both Carol and Dennis are members of this ATD network of caring, compassionate individuals and their special charming canines who are willing to share smiles and joy with people, young and old alike.

These dogs are for “hugging and petting” and are not service dogs.

The unstoppable, unconventional, straightforward and enthusiastic Carol Aurelia [Wilcox] Willson Wagner had danced for 51 years, running her Carol Willson Studio One, one of the largest Dance studios in Bucks County, located in the Grundy Commons complex in Bristol on the Delaware.

The iconic Grundy Clock still strikes FUN! It is now home to the Stepping Stone Dance Studio.

When Carol retired almost 10 years ago, she decided to just concentrate on her pets and spend more time with her beloved 12 year old grandson, Mark.

“I love being retired!” She owns two “Aussie” dogs, Colton the therapy dog, and OZ, that is involved in dog training to do scent work, learning to be able to do searches in rooms or cars to search for a specific odor or odors and find the source.

Carol also owns a horse! Stoli is a dark chocolate colored coat Rocky Mountain male horse, a horse breed developed in the state of Kentucky, not in the Rocky Mountains, but instead in the Appalachian Mountains. This breed is praised for its good nature and affinity for humans.

Carol boards Stoli in Newtown at The Village Farm full service equine boarding stables.

There is nothing mediocre about the care that she gives to her animals.

“About five years ago, I broke up a dog fight and almost lost my hand. I was in therapy and a friend said, ‘Come out to the barn with me, you’ll like it.’ It WAS fun and I bought a horse and learned then that one negative event can bring you to a whole new place,” said Carol.

Carol’s first therapy dog, “Kicho” was a Rhodesian Ridgeback that worked as a therapy dog for eight years. She originally was just training him for obedience for competition. Her second therapy dog is “Kody,” a retired highly trainable Border Collie mix. “He is 17 years old and just too old for work so “Colton” really carries the entire schedule now.”

She usually gets her dogs from rescues or “happenstance”, so basically, “I inherited them!”

Carol is personally responsible for all of their upkeep and training and she and her dogs go to Canine Academy, LLC in Langhorne, where they have been successfully training dogs since 1973.

“Every day I want to be better, so I watch videos, listen to training tapes, and I read articles.”

Her dogs participated in the Canine Good Citizen program [CGC] and are registered with the Therapy Dog organization. Then St. Mary Medical Center associates observed how they work in medical situations. Her dogs report to the HR Department and have pictures taken for their badges.

“People in the hospital know all the dogs.”

A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease in all situations.

Carol has always searched for dogs with an initiative. “Each dog knows his/her job and each allows the patients to pet them. They work to take all the aches and pains and walk them out of the room.”

Sewing and alteration projects, and crafting quilts, unique totes, bags and purses, and costume making are also part of Carol’s days with her “Stitches: from CW”. Her items will not be duplicated once sold. She also creates “Orphan Critters”, accent pieces for making a special statement in a room.

“I started sewing with my late mother, Caroline Wilcox Warnell. She would be laughing at the crazy things I make now.”

Volunteer Services’ Dennis Jarosz also provides a gentle, hard working four-legged Alliance Therapy Dog for the St. Mary’s Hospital Pet Therapy Program.

He had just recently retired from a successful career in sales and marketing as the Senior Vice President of Sales for Congoleum innovative flooring products, when a woman visited him with a dog while he was being hospitalized at St. Mary’s. He was surprised to find a little extra therapy available to him in the form of a wagging tail. This visit inspired him.

When he recovered, he took his now 8 year old “Lillie”, a little black and tan Papillon and Yorkshire Terrier mix dog through obedience training.

When returning home, he made a stop at the local Pet Smart, and while chatting, another customer who happened to work at St. Mary’s told him that the hospital needed more therapy teams.

The therapy canine connection was to begin.

“Interactions and a chance to play with a dog or pet can allow the body to relax, bringing feelings of well being and calm that may even lower blood pressure”, stated Dennis.

The dogs are an awesome distraction from dealing with whatever has landed the patient in the hospital.

Dennis shared, “The therapy dogs visit sometimes 50 rooms a day helping and healing, and are touched by 75 -100 people in two hours, and less than 75% of them are patients. More and more people are used to them now, but to some, they are still a novelty.”

The therapy dogs are all sprayed with a penetrating pet safe antimicrobial spray after each patient interaction.

Heartfelt encounters keep him motivated.

“Once, while we were walking down a hallway, a visitor shared that when her mom was in the hospital two years prior, Lillie had been a highlight of her mother’s stay. She remembered Lillie’s name!”

Lillie and he had visited a quadriplegic whose only movement was to work a computer with a mouth wand and he asked Dennis to allow Lillie to climb on him. “Lillie licked his face and made him very happy. He was even chuckling.”

Experts suggest that patients who are recovering from difficult surgery or a bad accident who spend time with pets may heal more quickly. Some visits are more emotional than others but the therapy dogs and their owners work together as a team to give them a furry friend to love on for a few minutes.

Carol acknowledged,” I have the highest respect for all who invest their time in this program. I have met many wonderful people and heard the most wonderful stories. We share but a moment and then we leave the room. This is our niche – a small little valuable corner of the world to hopefully help the so many who are going through trials and tribulations.”

ATD is NOT suspending visits at this time due to the Corona Virus. Please follow CDC guidelines for sanitation and follow the facilities’ procedures.

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