Pet therapy volunteers bring joy to children

Published On 10/16/2016

In many ways, Sallie is a typical Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital volunteer. Every Friday morning, she comes to the hospital and visits with many of the children on the hematology and orthopedics units. As she walks the hallways, Sallie’s often greeted with smiles and hugs from hospital employees and families.

LeBonhuer Pet Therapy-4

But Sallie isn’t like most volunteers – she’s a 6-year-old Labrador and one of nearly 20 dogs who work with Le Bonheur’s volunteer pet therapy program. All the therapy dogs are handled by Le Bonheur volunteers, and each animal goes through extensive training to prepare for their role.

Each week, Sallie and her owner, Andrea Williford, spend more than an hour visiting patients – sitting with families and offering respite, support and comfort. Williford is part of a group of nearly 200 volunteers who spend at least one day a week at the hospital and who help lift the spirits of the more than 250,000 children who come to Le Bonheur annually.

Williford, a retired nurse, began volunteering at Le Bonheur five years ago. When she heard about the hospital’s pet therapy program, Williford enrolled Sallie in a year-long basic therapy dog training sessions at Dog Woods in Cordova, Tenn., where the pair learned proper techniques and commands when dealing with sick children. Sallie’s calm, affectionate personality made her an ideal therapy dog.

“She loves to snuggle,” Williford said. “More than anything, our visits can make a kid’s day, and I’m blessed by having a great, sweet dog.”

As children pet and pamper Sallie, they often speak openly, and many share their feelings about their stay in the hospital, Williford said. The pair has motivated a patient to begin walking after spinal surgery and even helped a child overcome her fear of dogs.

pettherapystp2Volunteers needed

Everyone can help the kids at Le Bonheur. Every day, dozens of volunteers are needed to help hospital staff with special events, supporting patients and their siblings and more.

Spending a few hours each week at Le Bonheur can make a big difference for a child.

To find out how you can share your skills and talents, visit lebonheur.org/volunteer or call 901-287-5225.