Hospital volunteer gives back to patients through therapy dog

Twice a week at Ascension Via Christi St. Teresa, a snazzy stroller rolls through the hospital carrying Missy, the rat terrier/chihuahua therapy dog, who is toted around by her equally-eclectic owner, Judy Meek.

Meek, an Ascension Via Christi hospital volunteer since 2004, says this role is her most rewarding yet."We're doing what we can with what we have to make someone else's day," she says. "Missy goes home exhausted from doing tricks, cuddling and giving kisses where she's welcome."

Meek, who has been a therapy dog handler for six years, says Missy was everything she prayed for and more.
"I previously worked with Shelties, which are much larger than Missy and cannot easily climb into a hospital bed or sit in a lap like she does," says Meek, who is affiliated with locally founded therapy pet group, Hands and Paws, Inc.

Now 4-years-old, Missy began her active service at just 1 ½-years-old. Judy and Missy met because of paw-print jewelry and a keen-eyed clerk at a local jewelry store.

"The gal noticed my accessories and asked if I would like to visit her and her new litter of puppies," says Meek, who says she prayed specifically to adopt a runt of the litter, preferably female, with light-colored fur. "And what do you know? I visited the litter and got kisses from the runt, who was a girl with white fur."

Once they arrive at the hospital, the pair heads for the surgery/imaging waiting room first to interact with patients. Then, they make rounds on the second- and third-floor inpatient rooms.

"I pray before we go into any room that she makes an impact," says Meek, who respectfully avoids rooms where the doors or curtains are closed or where she will interrupt caregivers.

"Missy is magical in the way that she can read patients and match their energy," she says, noting that her favorite way to spread cheer is through gentle licks and kisses, which she says can often result in a free lens cleaning session for those with glasses.

As a retired middle school teacher, Meek's found reward in also bringing her to local schools to help calm learning-disabled students, de-stress sessions ahead of state testing and bereavement purposes. She's additionally volunteered in nursing and memory care homes.

"With Missy, we've become one unit wherever we are and it brings me joy to see how her personality can change someone's day or mood," says Meek. "I've absolutely found personal reward through her in learning to have patience, slow down, smile and find enjoyment wherever our stroller takes us!"