The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Montour County

March 31, 2014

Four-legged visitors, greeted with smiles, help Geisinger HealthSouth patients' recovery

MAHONING TWP. — Theresa Haggerty didn’t mind Riley the golden doodle licking her face.

“I love dogs. My dog sleeps in the bed with me,” she said as she shook hand and paw with Riley. The Shamokin woman is a patient at Geisinger HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital following a stroke.

Haggerty’s roommate proudly showed the dog paws and Snoopy on her arm cast. Betty Schoener, of Eagles Mere, said she visits with the cream-colored Riley, owned by Joseph West, of Northumberland, and the other therapy dogs when they greet patients and staff at Healthsouth.

“I think this is fantastic,” Lera Schaeffer, 91, of Port Trevorton, said as she petted Buffy, a white bichon frise sitting on her lap. Schaeffer said she has a cat at home. Buffy was all dressed up in a pink tutu.

Physical therapist Chelsea Matukaitis petted golden retriever Cagney as Connie Cuff, of the Sunbury area, took him to meet patient Helen Longan, of Milton, who is recuperating from a broken arm.

Butch Palmer, of Minersville, held on his lap Lizzie the shih tzu, wearing a Martha Stewart red dress and feathers on her head.

Palmer’s sister,, Peg Mondozzi, of Cleveland, said the visits are uplifting for the patients.

“There are people here who haven’t smiled all day and when they see the dogs, all of a sudden they light up,” she said. Also visiting with Palmer, a patient since March 5, was his wife, Carol Palmer.

Butch Palmer was happy to see Lizzie, who turns 8 in May, since “I can’t see my dog” — a Labrador-Italian greyhound. Mary Lou Walsh, of Selinsgrove, owns Lizzie who has been in the people therapy business for seven years.

Arris Moser, of Montandon, and her German shepherd mix shelter rescue dog named Ryley, wearing a kerchief, greeted Dawn Skwarek, of Nescopeck, who said she had a dog at one time.

The four-legged visitors and their owners are part of the Susquehanna Trail Dog Training Club which has been traveling to rehab hospital for about 15 years.

“We provide emotional therapy to patients and the staff,” said Connie, head trainer with 4-year-old Cagney, a therapy dog for three years.

 “Buffy brings great joy to people she visits,” said her owner, Gail Lorady, of Ashland.

“Buffy has made over 400 visits in less than five years. We have three visits tomorrow,” she said Thursday. Buffy, 5, has been a therapy dog for more than 3-and-a-half years.

West said they go from room-to-room asking patients if they would like to greet a therapy dog.

His dog — 3-and-a-half-year-old Riley — has been a therapy dog since she was 15 months old. “I joined the club right after we got her and started training to get her certified,” he said.

The other Ryley, at 10, has been providing therapy to people for six years. Moser and she also visit Geisinger emergency room patients where one dog is allowed at a time.

Karen Sodrick, of Paxinos, and Lizzie, a 6-year-old black and white springer spaniel have been making therapy visits for five years.

The dogs and their owners also greet younger people, including Bucknell University students, during stressful times.

They visit Healthsouth the first and last Thursdays of the month. Earlier in the day, they went to Holy Family Convent.

The group also goes to Allenwood prisons, Sunbury Community Hospital, Shamokin Hospital, Northeast Academy, Mansion Nursing Home, Riverwoods, Sunshine Corner, Nottingham Village and Life Geisinger.

The dogs know Dr. Denise Enari will have chicken treats for them as they leave Healthsouth. “My uncle was a vet and my grandfather was a vet. We always had animals,” Enari said.

Email comments to kblackledge@thedanvillenews.com.

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