ROCHESTER, Minn. – Volunteers play a key role in making a difference for patients at Mayo Clinic and as you walk around the campus, you may start to notice more four-legged volunteers.
Mayo’s Caring Canine Program is continuing to expand. Jessica Smidt, who took over as program coordinator 3 years ago, says there were just 8 therapy dogs on campus and now there are 30 in the program. Smidt says the demand for therapy dog visits is higher than ever.
“If we were to meet 100% of the demand, we would need probably like 50 or 60 dogs,” Smidt explains. “The more people find out about them and then the more people want visits from them.”
To help meet the demand, Smidt added a four-year old golden retriever named Alta to the program. On one of her first visits, Alta met a Mayo Clinic patient named Denise who was receiving treatment for an autoimmune disease. Smidt says Alta and Denise formed a natural and special connection. Denise tells us that Alta helped with stress relief during a difficult recovery process post-surgery. In fact, the pup was so helpful for her both physically and emotionally that Denise has decided to look into getting a therapy dog of her own.
“Afterwards during the recovery period I revisited that happy place often to help me get through the recovery and so I thought it would be nice to have a dog like Alta, a service dog of my own that could help every day with these kinds of needs,” Denise says.
Alta, and the other Caring Canines must pass an evaluation through Pet Partners before being able to visit patients. Other than that, the level of training varies depending on the dog/handler.