New therapy dog program begins at Panama City hospital

NC7's Dan Nyman stopped by Sacred Heart to find out how the visitor was a real treat for patients.
Published: Jan. 27, 2023 at 6:13 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 27, 2023 at 6:56 PM CST
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - A new four-legged employee will be working part-time at Ascension Sacred Heart Bay.

The hospital launched its new therapy dog program on Friday and introduced volunteer K-9 handler Christine Macejka and her pup, Maggie, to the staff. The 7-year-old labradoodle will be visiting for an hour or two at a time on weekday evenings, weekends, and holidays. In her debut, she was a star throughout the building.

“You can just tell everybody that she passed was smiling and wanted to come pet her, you could just see the tension ease from their faces. I think it just brought a lot of joy to the hallways,” said Michele Moore, manager of volunteer services at Ascension Sacred Heart Bay.

Maggie’s owner Christine found her on Craigslist when she was just 10 years old.

“I’ve been blessed with her, and I just wanted to share that with other people, and so I took her for an 8-week course, she passed her therapy training, and now we’re volunteers,” said Macejka.

Officials say companion animals like Maggie can help reduce blood pressure and ease anxiety. There are also other health benefits involving these animals, including help with fine motor skills, helping people develop social skills and motivating people to exercise.

Considering these benefits, Moore says the hospital is motivated to add more furry friends to their fleet. But not every dog can be a therapy dog - it takes a specific personality to thrive in that environment.

“Well, you have to have a dog that has the right temperament, and it already has some basic skills - can they sit, can they stay, will they jump on people? There’s got to be some basic behaviors that they have a foundation on to start the program on,” said Moore.

If your dog fits that description, Moore encourages you to become the next member of the program. According to the hospital, pet owners need to become a volunteer and their pets must pass a pet therapy certification. The course Maggie went through for her certification was 8 weeks long.

Head over to Ascension’s website to get involved, or you can contact Moore at (850) 804-6029 or via email.