Last updated: August 24. 2013 5:55PM - 452 Views

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LIMA — Oliver’s toes click on the hard floor as he confidently scurries down a Lima Memorial Health System hallway, his tail wagging as if it’s powering him along.On the other end of the leash is Paula Thompson. Once a week, she and her 19-pound Cavalier King Charles spaniel go to the hospital to offer patients a few minutes of canine companionship.“If they say yes, you go in. If they say no, that’s fine,” Thompson said. “We don’t go in rooms that are in isolation, but we do go up to rooms in [the intensive care unit], and some marvelous things have happened in ICU.”Thompson now chairs the volunteer Pet Therapy Program at Lima Memorial that Ray Ward started eight years ago. She and Ward have been honored this year as Jefferson Award winners.“When I retired I wanted to give back to the community because they gave so much to me over the years,” Ward said. “I had trained dogs, and I wanted to train one for therapy work.”While volunteering at the humane society, he and his wife noticed a 10-week-old shepherd mix. Mandy soon found a home with the Wards, where Ray Ward did all the training necessary to get her registered by Delta Society as a therapy dog. Together, they started making the rounds at Lima Memorial. Ward, who now lives in Delaware, Ohio, said it’s difficult to explain the joy of working with pet therapy dogs and seeing “the smiles you get from patients who are miserable, hurting, they’ve got all kinds of problems,” he said “But just for that moment their attitude totally changes. The stress goes away, it’s just awesome.”In 2008, Thompson and Oliver joined the team.“A lot of times with Oliver, because he’s so small, the patients will want him on the bed with them. He loves that because he just wants to take a nap,” Thompson said with a laugh.On this day, Oliver snoozes in a padded chair while Thompson talks about the program. He glances up now and then and poses for a few photographs. Thompson said his calm demeanor is part of what makes him such a great therapy dog.Both Thompson and Ward have a catalogue of stories about the patients they’ve seen. Thompson recalls visiting a young girl who recently had her tonsils removed. When Thompson lifted Oliver off the bed and put him on the floor, he seemed to not want to leave. The girl’s mother had told Thompson her daughter hadn’t said a word for two days.“I said to her, ‘You know, Oliver thinks you want him to stay. So you’re going to have to tell him goodbye or he’s not going to leave, he’ll just stay.’ The little girl got a big smile on her face and said goodbye to him. He got up and walked out,” Thompson said.It’s easy to see how Oliver, Mandy and other therapy dogs can cheer up patients — and the whole hospital. Oliver regularly visits his friends in medical records, and calmly let a child pet him while in the elevator.Ward said the therapy dogs also work with Marimor school, 4-H, and the Girl Scouts. At the hospital, the dogs visit developmentally challenged children, regular rooms and critical care units and cancer patients. “Every day they volunteer, new stories emerge about how much of a profound connection of our dogs has had on a patient, family member or guest,” wrote volunteer services manager Janis Daley. “Amazing stories often emerge about patients who respond to the pet therapists when they have responded to medical professional.”Thompson and Ward both say the handler is important, but the dogs are the real stars.“If it wasn’t for Mandy, I wouldn’t have got that award,” Ward said. “They’re the ones that do the work. I’m just the one on the other end of the leash.”You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.com.

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