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Canine greeters offer paws for reflection
Canine greeters offer paws for reflection
By SUE HOFFMAN
Boo, a 7-year-old golden retriever, has that soft touch patients just love.
Seconds after entering the lobby with owner Sharon Passov at Cleveland Clinic's Family Health Center in Solon, Boo is surrounded by patients, young and old, just wanting to give her a hug. There's little time alone for Boo, whose silky fur and quiet, friendly disposition provide the perfect stress reliever for those going to and from their doctor's appointments.
One morning, Mrs. Passov clocked 287 "encounters" for Boo during her two hours as canine greeter at the health center. That's the number of visits Boo enjoyed during her two hours of duty, Mrs. Passov said.
Boo arrives at the Cleveland Clinic all excited, Mrs. Passov said. "But when you put on her special 'caring canine' vest, Boo becomes the dog the patients see there -- cool, calm and collected."
Mrs. Passov, who had volunteered with Boo at the Cleveland Clinic's University Circle location before helping to launch the same program in Solon in February, discussed the importance of the vest to Boo. She said Don Keath, of housekeeping, calls the vest Boo's "Superman cape," and "that's what it is. Boo moved into her role quickly and she took it like a fish to water."
Several other dogs from the area greet patients at the health center. Both "canine greeters," who have been screened by the Cleveland Clinic's canine coordinator Justin Tatulinski, and "caring canines," who are certified therapy dogs, and their owners come ready to serve.
Volunteers include Sammi, a 10-year-old bichon frise, with her handler, Kathy Taft, of Bainbridge; Annie, a Leonberger not quite 3, with owner Terry Daniloff, of Solon; Cinder, an 11-year-old Dalmatian owned by Solon fireman Robert Shimits; Irish setters Lady Gwen and Jack Thomas, both 4 1/2, and their owner Kirsten Thomas, of Russell; and Dakota, a 3-year-old English springer spaniel owned by Mrs. Passov's niece, Donna Nemer, of Hudson.
Dr. Richard P. Kratche, medical director of the Cleveland Clinic's Solon and Chagrin Falls family health centers, said he had long thought a human greeter would be helpful in the lobby, but it would have been costly. "It's a nice lobby, but it needed a personal touch." When he learned of Mrs. Passov's interest in serving as volunteer greeter with Boo and the desire of the clinic's volunteer services department to add canine greeters at the family health centers, "I thought, 'Bingo,'" he said.
He said he couldn't be more pleased at how the canine greeter program has turned out. "The dogs really add a lot. People have expressed how much they enjoy and appreciate it."
There has been much positive feedback from the patients and employees, said Alisa Mazzarella, the administrator for the Solon and Chagrin health centers. "They say it really brightens their day to have the dogs greet them. Patients say it helps take their minds off of why they're here." She said the greeters are appreciated by the employees as well. "It helps to put a break in their day," she said.
Spending a moment with Boo is the "paws that refreshes," quipped Mrs. Passov, who continues to take Boo weekly to volunteer at the Cleveland Clinic's Taussig Cancer Center in addition to going twice weekly to Solon. She said that overall, the Solon canine greeters clocked some 13,000 visits with patients, family members and employees from February through May.
Dr. Kratche said that Solon's 90-day pilot was successful and the program will continue. Currently, canine greeters and their owners are at the health center in the morning and afternoon daily. "We're now starting this program at other family health centers, beginning with Strongsville," he said.
"At home, when I come downstairs wearing my ambassador vest, she starts wagging and gets all excited," Mrs. Taft said. Sammi proudly wears her "canine greeter" vest when the two have their weekly turn in the lobby.
"No two dogs are the same," said Mrs. Taft, who held Sammi while the white, fluffy dog was being cuddled by a patient. She said all of the dogs are evaluated before they're approved as greeters. "They can't bark and they can't growl." Some patients think Sammi looks like a fluffy marshmallow, she said.
"I'm crazy about her. I want to take her home," Lucille Tedick, of Aurora, said about Sammi.
Beth Terrell, of Solon, watched as her daughters, Eden Gustin, 8, and Ember Gustin, 7, took their turn petting the dogs. "They love coming here and they're disappointed if the dogs aren't there to greet them," she said.
Mrs. Thomas said Mrs. Nemer asked her if she wanted to join the volunteer program with her Irish setters, both rescue dogs. "This is their way of giving back," she said.
"We're still recruiting," Mrs. Passov said. To be eligible for volunteer programs, a dog must be at least 1-year-old, have a mild temperament and be in good health. While Boo's a therapy dog, most of the greeter dogs are not, she said.
"Everyone says, 'My dog won't be like yours.' But once they put on the cape, they're ready to begin work."
Handlers must be 18 years of age. Those who are interested may call the Cleveland Clinic's volunteer services department at (216) 445-6986.
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