JEFFERSON-If you see catch a glimpse of a big golden retriever traipsing down the halls at Ashe Memorial Hospital – don’t be alarmed.
He’s Governor, and he’s just there to help.
By the end of the year, Pam Guion and Governor, her big, cuddly golden retriever, will launch a brand new therapy dog program at Ashe Memorial Hospital. Here’s what you need to know.
Governor is the star
Governor is Pam Guion’s 7-year old golden retriever, a wedding present from her husband Andy Guion. After Pam Guion retired as a teacher with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, she made good on her lifelong goal to volunteer with a therapy dog program. Finding Governor as a puppy and starting his training program was the first steps toward fulfilling that goal.
What’s the big deal about a therapy dog?
In short, pet therapy is a growing field that uses dogs and other animals to help people coping with health problems. Hospital visits by lovable pooches like Governor offer patients – many coping with life threatening medical conditions – and their families a much needed distraction from their health woes. Pets like Governor can offer patients an unbiased head to scratch and the kind of loving attention patients need at their lowest points.
And therapy dogs also help lift that weight
Pam Guion said some patients have a hard time talking about the issues they’re facing, though some – she said maybe most – would like someone to talk to about their ordeal. “But it’s hard to get that conversation started, especially with a stranger,” Pam Guion said. “But with a dog’s head in your lap or just petting them, all of a sudden things become easier to talk about. That’s worth so much.”
Pam and Gov have a long history
The pair have worked for six years together at Presbyterian Hemby Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, and Guion was recently recognized by the Charlotte Business Journal as its Volunteer of the Year for the hours of efforts she’s put into the visits with Gov. “Really, I’m just Gov’s mom,” Pam Guion sad. “When we visit somewhere, he’s the one everybody is waiting for. I’m just there to support him.”
And Guion and Gov put a lot into what they do
They’ve passed background checks, endured years of constant training and, for Governor a weekly fur trim and scrub down that makes him hospital friendly. Pam Guion and Governor worked through Therapy Dog International’s stringent training requirements – it took more than a year to earn certification – and he’s learned everything from how to navigate busy hospital corridors to the best ways to greet sick patients.
But the relationships are worth the effort
Governor’s visits helped build a strong relationship with a little girl named Mercede Carmichael – she went by Cede – who was admitted to Presbyterian with leukemia in 2011. Over the nine months she battled her disease, Cede and Governor built a strong relationship. Cede’s room was the one Governor sought out first during each visit to the hospital and the pair would lay together for hours. And when Cede died, even Governor needed to visit her room for closure. “It’s hard sometimes,” Pam Guion said. “This is an emotional thing, and its work for Governor too. He comes home and just collapses after his visits. But you see the reaction people have when he visits, and you can see how he helps, so you have to keep going.”
They’ll likely start AMH visits later this year
Pam Guion and Ashe Memorial Hospital Laura Lambeth said the only thing holding Governor back from making visits to AMH right now is Guion’s surgically repaired hip. She and Andy have moved to Ashe County full-time – he owns and operate Hotel Tavern in West Jefferson – and she said she’s ready to bring Governor to Ashe Memorial soon. She’s currently recovering from surgery, but working with Governor is an important part of her rehabilitation process, according to Guion. “We’ve already got a program where patients are allowed to bring their own dogs to AMH,” Lambeth said. “But we can’t say how thrilled we are that Pam and Governor are going to begin making visits here.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.