Volunteer therapy dogs furloughed during pandemic return to Redwood City hospital

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- COVID-19 restrictions have caused many hospitals to turn away volunteers who provide essential help to patients, visitors and medical teams, adding to their stress.

However, the welcome mat is back out at a Peninsula hospital where four-legged volunteers who provide essential therapy are back on the job.

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Eight-year-old Emmy is returning to work after a year and a half when COVID put her on furlough. The 90-pound English black lab is a pet therapy dog that visits patients and staff weekly at Dignity Health's Sequoia Hospital. Her human, Francie Kuehner, says it's great to be back.

"It's a two-way street because she enjoys it, but the patients if they're open to seeing a dog, they're in bed all day or it's just a monotony of being in the hospital. This is just a surprise," she said.

No one is happier than Leah Thrush, who comes for breast cancer treatments every three to four weeks.

"Nobody wants to have treatments, so it just makes it a little more human, a little less hospital-like, and a little more relaxed," she said.

Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City currently has three pet therapy dogs making the rounds, all of the volunteers with special certification. Emmy delights not only patients but also nurses and other hospital staff, who have experienced high stress during the pandemic. The benefit is huge for patients dealing with pain or anxiety.

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"Having a pet just like a companion or friend come and visit them brightens up their day and destresses them from the street or whatever bad news they got from the hospital," said registered nurse Gloria Kwok.

Emmy clearly loves her work. Dog treats provide her with rewards and motivation. But the joy she shares is priceless.

Over the course of an hour, Emmy will end up seeing about 30 people, both patients, and staff, and leave them feeling better than before she arrived.
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