Steve says, “Tootsie’s probably the smallest dog in the program, but there are dogs up to the size of a Great Dane. But, what matters most is that they’re good with families and children.”
We met Steve and several of the volunteers in the Animal Assisted Therapy Program at a spring celebration at the Ronald McDonald House. Fourteen dogs and one cat, all dressed up in festive spring outfits, brought smiles to the faces of kids and heir families.
During Steve’s years volunteering, he’s seen kids that are facing some really scary things. “A lot of families have kids in the pediatric unit at Hershey, the NICU, the oncology floor… they’re in there for very serious and life-threatening conditions. This home, this Ronald McDonald House, is a place that cradles families and children when they’re most vulnerable. And, these dogs come and are a part of that equation. They allow parents and kids to take a break.”
Tracy Joynt, another volunteer with the program adds about the animals, “They’re not going to ask you questions. They’re just going to be with you and sometimes you just need that.” Tracy’s son was in the hospital for a heart transplant and a therapy dog brought him joy during his stay. Now she’s “paying it forward” by bringing her therapy dog Hanna to visit kids at the Ronald McDonald House.
Scroll down to watch the video to hear more about Steve and Tracy’s experiences volunteering.
Steve says, “What’s wonderful is it’s documented that when you interact with a therapy dog your blood pressure drops. Your stress level drops. Your heart rate calms and your pulse calms. It’ good for you, it helps you.”
Steve and Tracy both feel that volunteering with the Red Cross Animal Assisted Therapy Program is rewarding for them because they see that it provides something that is positive and something that is unconditional for hurting kids and families. Steve says, “What you see are kids who are frightened and traumatized and they calm down. They are scared and you divert. That’s what you do, you divert. You soothe and calm and divert from frightening things.”
Learn how you can get involved as an Animal Assisted Therapy Volunteer.
Learn more about the Ronald McDonald House and see how volunteers make a difference in this video. And, check out a video of our Facing Cancer Together and witf team preparing a meal for families here.