Volunteers Laurie Janick, with therapy dog Sunshine, and Laura Johnson, with therapy dog Katie, walk the halls of Beaumont for the Halloween Therapy Dog Parade Oct. 27.

Volunteers Laurie Janick, with therapy dog Sunshine, and Laura Johnson, with therapy dog Katie, walk the halls of Beaumont for the Halloween Therapy Dog Parade Oct. 27.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Therapy dogs get dressed up for Halloween to raise patients’ spirits in Troy

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published November 10, 2022

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TROY — Corewell Health Beaumont Troy Hospital, formerly Troy Beaumont Hospital, got a special Halloween treat thanks to the volunteers in its therapy dog program.

The therapy dog program allows dog owners to bring specially trained and approved dogs into the hospital to visit patients, provide them with company and cheer them up.

“The pet therapy program (consists of) pets that are certified therapy dogs that come into the hospital or other places, and we share our dogs and bring joy and help people forget that they are in the hospital,” said Abby Whitford, the volunteer coordinator of the pet therapy program. “Today we are having a Halloween pet parade down the main lobby. The dogs are all dressed up and ready to go.”

The dogs were dressed up in some colorful Halloween costumes from flowers to dinosaurs to frankfurters. They and their handlers paraded down the hospital’s main concourse before visiting several patients in their rooms.

Whitford said that many people get “therapy dogs” and “service dogs” confused.

“Therapy dogs are different than service dogs,” she remarked. “Service dogs help one person for one specific job, while therapy dogs help everybody. They are here to just love on people.”

She also said that the dogs are allowed in while properly managed by their handlers and only after proper training and approval by hospital staff to ensure they are only doing good and will not interfere with hospital operations.

“I want people to know that these are well-trained dogs,” Whitford said. “They have gone through extensive training and they just really want to be close to people.”

Whitford was on hand at the parade with her dog Molly, who was dressed up as a prom queen. She has been doing it for some time and said it was something that was incredibly fun and rewarding.

“I have been a therapy dog handler for 17 years. I have been here at this program for 12 years,” she explained. “My children had gone off to college, and we had a dog who was very calm and well behaved, and I had just been introduced to the concept by a friend who brought therapy dogs into hospitals, and it just seemed like a great thing to try.”

She had been part of other hospitals hosting similar therapy dog programs, so when she got the chance to bring it to the Troy hospital, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I was doing pet therapy at Crittenton Hospital years ago, and we had a group there that did it,” Whitford said. “We escalated it when we started working at Beaumont. When Halloween comes around, it’s just fun to dress up your dogs and embarrass them.”

The administrators at the hospital said the parade was a big success and that they are so appreciative to have so many volunteers willing to come in with their pets in order to help patients.

“The Pet Therapy program at Corewell Health is an integral part of our volunteer team, and we are extremely excited to have them back on campus visiting our patients and staff,” Thomas Lanni Jr., the president of Corewell Health Beaumont Troy Hospital, said in an email. “They bring so much joy, whether greeting patients or visiting team members in their departments. Research shows pet therapy programs make a very positive impact on hospital health and well-being. We are so thankful to these dedicated volunteers and look forward to their continued service for years to come.”

Peter Hodge, of Chesterfield, was among the patients getting visits from therapy dogs during his stay at the hospital.

“It’s a big pick-me-up. It’s a mental boost. You’re here, you don’t know what’s going on. … It changed my outlook probably by 40% just by having the dogs come in. To me, that’s a lot.”

His wife, Geri Hodge, said that the therapy dogs can have an enormous effect on a patient’s state of mind.

“These dogs have made a world of difference in my husband’s care. He looks forward to them every time they come in. They boost up his spirits. They are probably the biggest asset to this hospital. What they do for the hospital is amazing, and their handlers are absolutely fantastic and so caring. I wish every hospital had it.”

Both said it is incredibly touching that people — and animals — are taking the effort to just make those in need of care feel better.

“I had a dog just like (one that visited me today),” Peter remarked. “It was a Lab who I got from the Humane Society when they were just a puppy. Best dog I had in my life.”

Whitford and the other therapy dog handlers said they keep bringing in their furry best friends again and again because they can see how much of a positive impact it can have.

“Dogs bring joy to everybody, usually, and especially in a hospital, it’s usually the last thing you expect to see as you are sitting in a room with four walls. A dog can walk in and change your whole day. We also enjoy the fact that the staff here works incredibly hard, so when we walk into the emergency room or a very busy floor we can feel the blood pressure of everybody go down. It brings something different to their day.”