Therapy dog team helps create program providing pet care for hospital patients

Denver7 Everyday Hero Barbara O'Dwyer and Mack .png
Posted at 12:33 PM, Oct 24, 2022

WESTMINSTER, Colo. – When Barb O’Dwyer and Mack walk into a room, it’s hard to tell who gets more attention. Mack is a therapy dog, and he and Barb have been volunteering at Centura St. Anthony North since 2019.

“His job is literally to bring love and joy and comfort to anyone in this building,” O’Dwyer said.

O’Dwyer and Mack are more than just a therapy dog team at the hospital. O’Dwyer volunteers as the coordinator for the hospital’s therapy dog program, managing all 14 teams that work at the hospital.

“While the program's called Paws 4 Patients, we call it Pause for Anyone in the Building because our doctors, our nurses, our cafeteria staff, our housekeeping, supply chain, you name it, there's lots of stress in this building,” she added.

Even though COVID-19 protocols kept them away from the building for seven months, O’Dwyer and Mack have made more than 220 hospital visits in the last three years. Those visits are on top of Barb’s real job as a project manager – a job requiring skills she used when she volunteered to help create the Paws 4 Paws program at the hospital.

“We saw quite a few patients during the pandemic, who, unfortunately, were homeless and would come to the hospital and there was nobody that could care for their dog,” said Jessie Thurber-Dean, the chief nursing officer at the hospital. “Barb and her partner Mack really identified this need and put a lot of work into this program.

Paws 4 Paws is a partnership with Foothills Animal Shelter created with a grant from the Centura Health Foundation at the hospital. The shelter provides transportation to and from the shelter as well as three days of pet boarding for patients who have no one else to leave their dogs with while they undergo medical care. O’Dwyer says the shelter will also pamper the pets a little bit.

“They will provide vaccinations. They will give the dog a bath and a nail trim,” she says with a smile before adding the shelter is also throwing in a $40 gift card that can be used at the supply store at Foothills Animal Shelter. “So treats leashes, beds, collars, whatever -- something special for the dog that they may not be able to afford.”

This article was written by KMGH.