Ascension Via Christi patients, associates enjoying canine companionship

Beau had been on the job for four years before being furloughed in March 2020 because of the pandemic. But since mid-June, the 7-year-old Aussiedoodle and his human handler, Joyce Marsh, have been back visiting patients at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis' Pediatrics unit and seventh-floor Cancer Institute twice a month.

Beau and Joyce are one of seven pairs of canine and human handler volunteers currently rounding on patient units at Ascension Via Christi's Wichita hospitals.

"We had quite a long break, but we're glad to be back," says Marsh, a full-time human resources consultant for an out-of-state company,.

Marsh says as part of each visit she and Beau are interacting with patients, visitors and associates from the moment she parks her car until the time they leave. "We invariably get stopped on our way to see patients."

Patients with dogs at home particularly appreciate having a chance to spend some time with Beau, she says, as do the staff, many of whom have gotten to know Beau.

"He knows them, too, particularly the ones he knows keep treats in their desk drawers," says March.

Darla Goodwin, nurse manager for the Cancer Institute's 40-bed inpatient unit, says the visits provide a much-needed emotional release for patients and associates.

"Patients often cry as they enter the room, but they are happy tears," Goodwin says, adding that for her busy team, even a brief interaction with Beau and the other canine volunteers can be rejuvenating.

Susan Delling, director of Guest Services and Volunteers for Ascension Via Christi's Wichita hospitals, agrees.

"Pet therapy is an area of volunteerism where no matter who a team visits, a big smile is all but guaranteed," Delling says. "It helps ease stressful situations and allows everyone to focus their energies on healing.

"We are truly blessed to have all these special volunteers on our team."