Columbus, OH,
14:00 PM

Furry Associate at Riverside Methodist Spreads Love and Comfort

Every weekday at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital, a furry associate walks the hallways, waiting areas and patient rooms — bringing a smile to everyone he meets.

Wesley, an adorable labradoodle puppy named for the founder of the Methodist Church, is Riverside Methodist’s first and only facility dog. He was specially selected, trained and certified to provide comfort and loving care to patients, visitors and associates.

Since arriving at Riverside Methodist in August, Wesley has become a sought-after member of the healthcare team. His host mom — Casey Hudnall, RN, manager of quality accreditation and patient safety, Riverside Methodist — drops Wesley off at the Volunteer Services office every weekday morning. Trained handlers then take him to patient rooms and common areas to share his unconditional love.

“He has the sweetest personality,” says Carol Conner, director of volunteer services. “He’s like a magnet for people. It’s such a joy to watch the smiles he puts on people’s faces, the happiness they get when they see him.”

It was Carol who came up with the idea of having a facility dog at Riverside Methodist. The hospital already had a pet therapy program, but it relied on volunteers to bring in their own dogs. That meant most of the dogs only come in on weekends when their handlers are off work. During the week, Carol often had to turn down patient and nurse requests for therapy dog visits.

Carol approached Brian Jepson, president, Riverside Methodist, about her idea, and he jumped on board. She put together a proposal for acquiring Wesley from a trainer in Indianapolis and worked with Anita Laterro, vice president of philanthropy with the OhioHealth Foundation, to raise funds.

Establishing a facility dog program required a significant investment of time and money. In addition to purchasing, training and micro-chipping Wesley, the hospital had to recruit and train 12 volunteer handlers and 10 dog walkers to care for the labradoodle while he worked. Carol also had to find a host family and a backup host family to look after Wesley in the evening and on weekends.

Peter George, MD, MBA, system vice president, OhioHealth Heart & Vascular Services, and his wife, Jodi George, stepped forward with a $26,000 donation to get the facility dog program up and running. Dr. George said he and Jodi were inspired by the joy they’ve experienced from their own dog, Maggie, and by the power animals have to promote wellbeing.

“I can tell you from having spent 17 years seeing patients, a lot of time in the hospital people just want to get home to their animals, they miss them, they’re comforted by them,” Dr. George says. “This is great to be able to bring a dog like Wesley right into the patient room and have them get a little bit of what they’re missing from home.”

Casey says she and her family — especially her four-year-old daughter, Sydney — are delighted to be Wesley’s caregivers. They’re also glad they don’t have to leave their lovable new pet at home.

“He pulls me into work every morning,” Casey says. “He jumps out of the car, he’s so excited. His tail is wagging, and he can’t wait to get inside.”

Carol says Riverside Methodist may consider getting another facility dog in the future, and OhioHealth Grant Medical Center has expressed interest in acquiring a therapy dog, too.

“I have a feeling Wesley might be the first of many facility dogs at OhioHealth,” Carol says.