National Dog Day is Monday, August 26, 2019, and according to nationaldogday.com, it “honors family dogs and dogs that work selflessly to save lives, keep us safe and bring comfort.” What better way for Gilchrist to celebrate National Dog Day than to highlight one of our pet support volunteers or therapy dogs and their owner?
Rick Huether is no stranger to Gilchrist, our mission and the care we provide. Rick’s father, Doug, was one of Gilchrist’s original board members in 1993 and retired in 2009. That same year, Rick was asked to join the board and continues to serve today—even being elected board chair during his tenure. But he still felt a desire to do more.
“I think that we all have a need to give back in whatever way we can—to society or to people. It’s important to me to support Gilchrist’s outstanding mission.”
Enter Rick’s partner-in-crime, Lexi—his 13-month-old Goldendoodle. The dynamic duo started visiting patients in January 2019, and they primarily spend time with patients at Gilchrist Center Towson and Gilchrist Center Baltimore on the weekends.
“Having Lexi with me seems to make the patients and families more comfortable than if I were to walk into a room by myself as a volunteer,” Rick says. “As soon as someone lays eyes on Lexi, I’m invisible. Lexi can easily do the ‘talking’ for me. Especially when a patient is not able to communicate verbally, Lexi’s presence at their bedside is all they need.”
Rick and Lexi spend anywhere from five to 30 minutes with patients who are open to their visits. Some patients, like Albert Parks (pictured below), have received repeat visits from Lexi. During a recent visit, Albert lit up as soon as he saw Lexi walk into his room and called her to his bedside for some ear scratches, which quickly turned into Lexi being invited up onto his bed.
Unlike Albert, many patients that Rick and Lexi visit are non-verbal but able to communicate their happiness in other ways. One Gilchrist Kids patient stands out in Rick’s mind: “Lexi and I visited a young lady at Gilchrist Center Baltimore who could not verbalize how she felt, but you could see right away in her eyes that she was thrilled to spend time with Lexi.”
Gilchrist’s use of Pet Support volunteers stems back to 2004, and today, there are 10 Pet Support volunteers who visit patients in our inpatient centers (Gilchrist Center Towson, Gilchrist Center Howard County and Gilchrist Center Baltimore) and in residential care centers. In order for the dogs and their owners to begin visiting patients, a dog must be a certified therapy dog, and their owner must also complete our volunteer training program.
Last year, pet support volunteers spent over 650 hours visiting with Gilchrist patients. But the joy felt is immeasurable. As Rick said, “It just makes you feel good to do something for folks and put a smile on their face.” We bet Lexi and all her fellow therapy dogs would agree.