Gainesville pet therapy dogs bring joy to patients

By on September 27th, 2012

Alan Walker, a resident of HarborChase, holds therapy dog Eddie on his patio during a recent visit.

Eddie prepares for a long day on the job. He baths in his favorite shampoo, removes knots and tufts with a brush and adds a dash of cologne. Then, Eddie suits up in his best vest and collar and hops into his car seat.

Eddie is a six-pound toy poodle who works as a certified therapy dog brightening the days of people housed in assisted living facilities, nursing homes and hospitals like Shands here in Gainesville.

Some days he visits HarborChase, an assisted living and memory care community in Gainesville, with his owner, Judy Baxter. Baxter, a retired nurse, volunteers her time to take Eddie to different sites in order to bring hope back to people who need it the most, she said.

“It doesn’t even have to be necessarily the patient or the person in the nursing home,” she said. “It’s their families and their visitors. Everybody sometimes gets just as much joy from it.”

Baxter said her goal behind participating in pet therapy is to provide a distraction for the patients who interact with Eddie. She said, the pet can also serve as a joy to the family members as well and keep their thoughts away from the family member who is suffering.

“In the hospital it’s just a distraction, for just a few moments, from what they’re going through,” she said. “Because even if you’re a family member or visitor you’re still there hurting for who is sick and [Eddie] just makes them feel better. He makes them forget for just a minute.”

Baxter got Eddie after she lost her other poodle, Winnie. She said having Eddie becoming a certified therapy dog has been beneficial for the both of them. Eddie gets to socialize and Baxter can cope with the loss of her other dog.

She describes Eddie as friendly, loving, obedient and the “perfect poodle.”

Though Eddie is a pristine poodle, he is not HarborChase’s only canine friend.

Maureen Steenbeke, the life enrichment coordinator at HarborChase, said all of the dogs that visit the facility have become part of the family.

“It triggers memories of them and their own pets, and its just a good feeling,” Steenbeke said.

When Eddie is done for the day, he nibbles on a treat and gets back into his car seat to prepare for more days of making a difference with his owner.

 Kelsey Meany wrote this story for online.

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  • Roxie

    Is this something Judy Baxter does on her own or is there a group that we might be able to contact if we were interested in becoming involved?


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