Vicki and Ernie Slone and their therapy dogs Gypsy and Gordon were called
to see a patient at
St. Joseph Hospital, Orange. An elderly woman was lying in the bed, her relatives lining the room.
Nearly 100 origami cranes hung from the ceiling, powerful symbols for
The woman's relatives knew the time had come for her passing but the
woman appeared to be having a hard time letting go. Ernie put Gordon,
a 17-pound Cairn Terrier, on a disposable pad on the woman's bed.
The little dog snuggled up to the patient.
Within minutes, the woman died peacefully with Gordon curled up next to her.
Later, the woman's granddaughter wrote a thank you note to the little
dog that's drawn to people who are hurting or who need love. Her grandmother
had loved dogs and had grown up with them; the granddaughter couldn't
think of a more appropriate way for her grandmother to pass.
That story is one of many unforgettable experiences the couple has had
in their 7 ½ years volunteering with their dogs. They've been
in the room with their animals when a patient came out of a coma, interacted
with people with gruff exteriors but big hearts, and put anxious children at ease.
"Every visit is important," Ernie said. "You just don't
know what impact you have."
The dogs are a conduit, the Slones say, creating a calm and familiar environment
that can connect patients back to their homes, childhoods and own animals.
Gordon and Gypsy also help relieve stress and alleviate boredom, says
Vicki, executive director for the Center of Clinical Research at St. Joseph Health.
"I think they are little ambassadors for the health system,"
The Slones take their dogs to St. Joseph Hospital, Orange at least once
a week. They also visit the hospital on holidays, when people are often
They feel good knowing they are helping patients.
"Every visit is a Sacred Encounter," Vicki said.
Gordon and Gypsy can change the atmosphere in a room, the couple said.
"People feel safe and they can respond and say things that they might
not," Ernie said. "We have learned to be good listeners. Patients
want to talk about their issues. They just want someone to listen to them."
Working with hospital staff has given the Slones a deep appreciation for
the dedication and care given to patients. Staff members also look forward
to the visits, which can help brighten spirits on challenging days.
Anyone with a dog knows how soothing the animals can be, the couple says.
"The thing is all dogs are therapy to us," Ernie said. "Everybody's
dog is a therapy dog."
To read more about St. Joseph Health's pet therapy programs,