‘Ambassadogs’ bring comfort, happiness to local hospitals

Former shelter dog, tucker provides comfort to those at Stonebridge Health Center. (KXAN Photo)
Former shelter dog, tucker provides comfort to those at Stonebridge Health Center. (KXAN Photo)

KYLE, Texas (KXAN) – Every week a group of animal lovers from Central Texas work on a schedule to plan where and when they will be visiting a local hospital or nursing home. But those in the group aren’t going alone, they are always visiting with a four-legged companion.

The group is part of Canines Who Care, an organization created by the PAWS shelter in Kyle. There are four handlers, each with a trained therapy dog they adopted from the shelter.

“We’re glad to see you, yes we are,” said Stonebridge Health Center patient Laurene Balke.

For Balke, the visit from therapy dogs is the best part of her week. “They sure know how to make a person feel wonderful,” she said.

Before being moved into the health center, Balke says she always had dogs. By the way her face lights up when she sees the dogs walk the hallway, it’s safe to say the pets bring her happiness in a way no human can.

“It makes you feel good to see a dog. The day’s long, you can’t breathe and you can’t see and stuff like that, but when you see them come in the door and down the hall, you just want to get out and hug them,” said Balke.

“He goes to visit nursing homes, children’s programs, senior citizens,” said PAWS Shelter Director Melody Hilburn referring to Tucker, her therapy dog.

In 2006, Tucker was left outside the doors of the PAWS Shelter. Hilburn says she immediately saw his potential and went through the training for him to become the group’s very first therapy dog.

“This is a second chance for these dogs to do some good work and give back,” said Hilburn. “We just hope to have more than just an ambassadog.”

Hilburn hopes to have at least 20 team members in the future. Sandy Johnson has adopted pets from the PAWS Shelter many times before, last week she met a new pup she hopes will become the next therapy dog.

“I wanted to make sure she would love it as much as I would – and clearly, clearly you’re not a stressed dog,” said Johnson while petting her newly adopted dog, Violet.  “I just want to help spread a little joy, and they sure are a joy,” she said.

Violet was found roaming the streets in Hays County, her calm demeanor makes her a perfect candidate for the therapy dog program.

“She would love to give comfort, she’s already given a bunch to me, so I think she’s a natural,” said Johnson.

Anyone looking to be a part of the Canines Who Care program can learn more on the PAWS Shelter website.

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