Crystal Lake resident Pam Magnuson and her dog Annie are a team. But only Annie, an Australian shepherd, is featured on a collectible card.
The pair visit the same-day surgery center at Centegra Hospital-McHenry each Friday as part of the hospital group’s Caring Paws program.
Magnuson, 49, knew early on that she wanted to get Annie, who will turn 4 in April, into animal therapy. Annie tested out for good citizenship at 6 months old. At 2, Annie was certified through Therapy Dogs International.
“She likes people,” Magnuson said. “She’s a good girl.”
Last year, Magnuson and Annie took a Caring Paws class and became registered through Pet Partners, a national nonprofit animal therapy organization.
“I liked the fact that … Annie and I are listed as a team,” Magnuson said. “We are equal partners.”
Being Annie’s advocate, Magnuson said, means helping people know what Annie likes and what she doesn’t (being petted on the forehead). It also means watching Annie to see when she’s tired and ready to wrap up her visits.
“It’s a positive experience for her, and a positive experience for the person she sees,” Magnuson said. “I’m her words, basically.”
In addition to the same-day surgery center, where Annie visits the waiting room, the pair also drop in at the Sage infusion center to visit patients, as well as nurses and technicians.
The 36 handlers and 39 dogs in the Caring Paws program visit acute patient rooms; nurse stations; surgery; cardiac and ICU family waiting areas; lobbies; medical records; ambulatory care; pharmacy; behavioral health; inpatient rehabilitation; and the cancer center.
Therapy dogs receive a lot of training, since they have to learn to get used to wheelchairs, walkers, canes, elevators, and all the beeping that goes on at hospitals, Magnuson said.
“When [dogs] first go into an elevator, it’s a big thing,” she said. “[Annie] was pretty funny.”
At the moment, Annie doesn’t go into hospital rooms; Magnuson found that there was too much going on. Maybe when she’s older, Magnuson said.
For now, though, Annie enjoys her weekly visits.
“She has really blossomed into it,” Magnuson said.
Annie also knows when it’s time to go to work.
“When I put that on her, I need to be ready to go,” Magnuson said of Annie’s uniform vest. “She head-butts me out the door.”
The visits last just over two hours, but the joy Annie and Magnuson bring to the people they visit is immeasurable, said Janice Laird, who nominated her friend as an Everyday Hero.
“They are a blessing to the people they visit,” Laird said.
The visits bring smiles to people’s faces as soon as they see Annie, Magnuson said.
“We just offer a distraction,” she said. “People seem to appreciate it.”
Annie also leaves her “calling card” with those with whom she interacts. On the front is a picture of Annie in her vest. On the back is her name, date of birth, a paragraph about the characteristics of her breed and a personal paragraph about Annie herself.
Annie soon might be joined by another of Magnuson’s three dogs.
Gromit, who is 3, is still a little too enthusiastic for therapy work, but Magnuson is hopeful he, too, will be able to pass the Pet Partners test.
“He’s a sweet, loving pup,” Magnuson said.
For Magnuson, the joy of volunteering comes from being able to help others.
“I enjoy making people feel better,” she said.
Beyond that is the deepening of the bond between animal and owner, Magnuson said.
“There’s a special kind of joy to see your dog do that for someone,” she said.