HealthVoices of Hope


These new therapy specialists at John Randolph Medical Center have four legs and a tail

Posted at 12:52 PM, Aug 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-10 14:05:56-04

HOPEWELL, Va. — John Randolph Medical Center in Hopewell has recruited four new therapy specialists, with the hope of bringing unconditional love and healing to its patients — but not in the traditional way.

The hospital is announcing a new pet therapy program, with Willow, an Australian Shepherd; Roe, a Whippet; and Ziggy and Riley, two Golden Retrievers.

“Uplifting a person’s spirits when they’re feeling low or haven’t been feeling well is so important to their healing,” said Beverly Epps, the hospital’s volunteer services coordinator who oversees the program.

Behavioral Health expert, Cara Macaleer, added that studies show animal therapy programs have several medical benefits for both physical and mental healing in patients.

“We know when patients come to the hospital, they are so scared. Whether they are coming for medical reasons or mental health reasons, it’s a really scary time for folks so having the dogs on the unit, we see a decrease in their anxiety, a decrease in their depression and they are able to engage more in a different avenue, than maybe with a doctor, so we see hope and not a sense of helplessness,” Macaleer said.

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Dog therapy is helping patients at John Randolph Medical Center. August 10, 2022.

On Tuesday, Willow and Roe visited patient Sandra Fox, who is awaiting back surgery. She said a visit from the dogs helped to brighten her day and ease anxiety about her medical condition.

“Now, I’m stuck in bed,” Fox said. “So, it feels good to have visitors and I love dogs!”

Tracy Carrasquilo, Director of John Randolph’s Joint and Spine Unit, said the dogs not only bring smiles, but help patients in the healing process. She said the hospital’s staff also enjoys the visits and returns that joy in their bedside manner.

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Tracy Carrasquilo

“It just causes a calmness when they are in a room all day by themselves, away from their home and away from their family and not knowing what the rest of their day is going to bring. Just to have that sweet little face pop into the room and just share love and calmness, it kind of just sets the day,” Carrasquilo explained.

The dogs have all completed training programs and are brought to the patient’s bedside with the patient’s consent. The dogs plan to visit the hospital’s military and medical/surgical units four times a month.

Roe’s handler, Susan Sexton, said she’s seen the impact of Roe’s sweet and friendly nature on patients, especially military veterans. She recalled one visit with a man who had just returned from the Middle East and wasn’t connecting to his family. She said he began responding after a visit from her pup.

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Dog therapy is helping patients at John Randolph Medical Center. August 10, 2022.

“It was a huge turning point for him,” Sexton said.

Willow’s handler, Melissa Squizzero-Lee, said seeing hope in the faces of staff and patients makes her realize the important role that dogs play in the lives of people. She said she once received a note that said her dog had helped save a man’s life who was contemplating suicide.

“It’s really wonderful being able to share our dogs with other people,” Squizzero-Lee said. “Especially when they are in a crisis or just having a bad day.”

John Randolph is the latest HCA facility to launch a pet therapy program. Henrico Doctors’ Hospital, Retreat Hospital and Chippenham Hospital also offer the program in Greater Richmond.

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Dog therapy is helping patients at John Randolph Medical Center. August 10, 2022.