On Your Health

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Meet Molly, INTEGRIS Therapy Dog

Volunteering is often called the “helper’s high” because it positively impacts lifespan and mood. While volunteering, connections are built that spark feelings of energy and happiness. In special cases, these emotions happen for both the volunteer and the recipient. Happily, these and many other positive vibes are common when a very special INTEGRIS volunteer, Molly the Therapy Dog, swings by for a visit.

Molly is a regular volunteer and friend at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center. She and her owner, Pam Harris, volunteer several times a week, spreading joy and comfort to patients and hospital staff. A 5-year-old sheltie, Molly is a registered therapy dog through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and Harris is a credentialed INTEGRIS volunteer.

A Day in the Life of Molly the Therapy Dog

Molly gets ready for volunteering by dressing to impress. Once a week, Molly has her coat brushed and her nails polished with a Dremel tool to keep them sparkling (and to prevent them from scratching anyone by accident). Before she begins volunteering, Molly’s coat and paws are wiped down with antibacterial baby wipes. She steps into her therapy dog harness, picks out a colorful bandana and clips on her INTEGRIS ID badge.

The duo check in at the Volunteer Office where the staff keeps a list of patients who have requested visits from a therapy dog. Then, they begin their volunteer shift.

“Molly loves to visit the nursing stations to see the staff,” Harris says. “Many are dog lovers and, if they can, they’ll stop for just a minute to visit with Molly. We visit the outpatient surgery waiting room, as well as the waiting rooms for the floors we visit. We occasionally visit patients and staff in Intensive Care, but usually only when there’s been a request to see a particular patient. We also make a quick run through the Emergency Room to see the staff.”

Molly Therapy Dog with nurses

Therapy dogs are authorized to visit any patient as long as the patients are not under contact isolation precautions. If visitors are required to wear a gown, mask or gloves to visit a patient, therapy dogs are not permitted to visit.

When Molly volunteers, she sits facing away from her new friends so they can easily pet her back. Her calm temperament and glowing smile provide comfort to patients and staff. A series of studies found that petting animals releases mood-elevating hormones such as oxytocin, serotonin and prolactin. It can also reduce anxiety and loneliness while lowering blood pressure.

“Molly’s job is to help people smile, provide a moment’s respite and be a diversion from stress and pain,” Harris says. “For just a few moments, families and patients can stop worrying about medical issues. Staff can forget about difficult cases or patients. People can just focus their attention and love on Molly, which makes everyone feel better, just for a little bit.”

After Molly finishes her visit, she heads back down to the Volunteer Office to say goodbye to the volunteer staff. She wipes down with another additional antibacterial wipe and heads home for naptime.

Molly the therapy dog infographic

Molly’s impact doesn’t end after her volunteer shift. She continues her mission of spreading joy and hope to the world through her Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

“Molly is the minister, not me; I'm just the one holding the leash,” Harris says. “I know there are no words I can say that actually help ease someone’s pain and stress. But I can talk about dogs; I can tell them about Molly, and I can listen to stories about their dogs, and we can provide a distraction. Some days I know exactly why we were at a particular facility, and some days I don’t.”

“I’ve learned two things after being a therapy dog handler for more than three years,” she says. “One is that I will never know the extent to which Molly has touched people’s lives with her small acts of kindness. And two is the fact that volunteering always reminds me how much I have to be grateful for.”

There are many opportunities to volunteer at INTEGRIS. If you are looking to serve your community by improving patient experiences, apply to become an INTEGRIS volunteer like Molly and Pam Harris.