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Therapy dogs help patients heal in Waterloo

January 3, 2019

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) — A hospital is a place with many helping hands. Covenant Medical Center has added some healing paws to the mix.

Two therapy dogs make the rounds daily on Covenant properties. Rose, a yellow Labrador retriever, greets physical therapy patients at Covenant’s Outpatient Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in the Kimball Ridge Building. Ammo, a black Labrador retriever, helps children at the Early Developmental Intervention center at the hospital.

“It’s amazing to see how much a dog can impact people,” said Allison Germundson, Ammo’s owner and handler and an occupational therapist at EDI.

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reports both dogs received extensive training from Retrieving Freedom in Waverly, a nonprofit organization that trains service dogs.

Rose’s training began as a foster pup in the home of Retrieving Freedom volunteer Charlotte Feckers, nurse manager of Covenant’s cardiac medical/surgical floor. The initial plan for Rose was to become a service dog for a veteran or a child on the autism spectrum. But Feckers and Retrieving Freedom staff noticed there was something very special about Rose.

“Her gentleness and her temperament are extraordinary,” Feckers said.

Retrieving Freedom staff shifted gears and decided Rose will instead produce two litters of service dogs and then become a permanent member of the Feckers household. Rose also will continue to comfort physical therapy patients at Covenant.

“The patients say having Rose there gives them something to look forward to, so I make sure she gets there every single day,” Feckers said.

When Rose’s job changed, so, too, did her training.

“Rose has been in training since she was 7 weeks old,” Feckers said. “Service dogs are supposed to pay attention to their handler, so she had to learn about being able to greet people. In a therapy setting, she can now give all the love she wants.”

The same goes for Ammo in the EDI unit. Ammo helps kids feel comfortable during their various therapy treatments.

Germundson said her five-year plan as an occupational therapist was to have a therapy dog in her clinical setting. A Retrieving Freedom representative had presented during one of her graduate student courses and she reached out to the organization to see about the possibility.

“Five months later they contacted me and said they had a couple of dogs that weren’t going to make it through” as service dogs, she said.

Ammo was one of them. His disqualifier as a service dog was the low grumble he makes when he’s excited.

“It sounds like a growl, but it isn’t. They couldn’t teach him it wasn’t appropriate,” Germundson said, laughing.

Germundson took Ammo to meet some of her young patients and it was a match made in heaven.

Ammo acts as book buddy for kids who struggle to read aloud and sits as a companion for children who are shy. He walks alongside kids who have balance difficulties and helps kids with functional reach issues by retrieving balls they throw to him. For little ones with sensory issues, Ammo calms and comforts by lying down next to them.

“I had a patient whose family member passed away. She started petting Ammo and broke down, saying she hadn’t yet cried,” Germundson said. “Ammo leaned right into her and let her pet him. Seeing this dog helped her release those feelings. It’s been pretty amazing to watch how incredible it can be to have him around.”

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Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, http://www.wcfcourier.com

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