Volunteers honor loved ones through pet therapy program at Aurora BayCare Medical Center

Posted at 11:48 PM, Jan 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-04 00:48:30-05

Chloe is right at home at Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay. The 5-year-old golden retriever visits patients about once a week. Her owner, Dan Vermeulen, has been volunteering with his dog for the past six months in honor of his late wife, Cheryl, who benefited from pet therapy while in the hospital.

"Her eyes just lit up every time she talked about it. She couldn't stop. I knew this is what we had to do," he explained.

Before her passing in 2015 from a heart condition, Cheryl and Dan discussed having their beloved Chloe serve as a therapy dog. Now, he's fulfilling her wish.

"She was mine for two years. She was my therapy and now it's time to share her with other people."

People like Terry Murphy who is recovering in the hospital after having surgery.

"You know you worry about a lot of things that you don't need to worry about. The dog just wipes that out," he said.

"People who leave their pets at home and are missing them, it's important to them to have that little puppy fix," added Lindy VanderKinter. 

VanderKinter also works as a volunteer at the hospital. She signs up patients for the pet therapy program. Just like Vermeulen, it's a way for her to pay it forward.

"I knew when I retired, I wanted to volunteer somewhere. In 2009, this hospital saved my husband's life," she said with tears in her eyes.

Her husband, John, received a life-saving pacemaker after suffering cardiac arrest. Now as a hospital volunteer, VanderKinter can share his success story with the patients she visits.

"It's comforting for people to know that other people have been here in difficult times, and there is a happy ending for us," said Amy Bertotto, Manager of Volunteer Services at Aurora BayCare Medical Center.

Volunteering has enriched VanderKinter's life.

"It's very rewarding to think that your walking into somebody's room, maybe kidding with them a little bit, has made their morning a little better." 

Vermeulen also feels fortunate to be able to give back to others in honor of his wife.

"I know that she'd be very proud of both of us, I think especially Chloe." 

For the patients, the company of the volunteers and their pets may be the best medicine of all.

"They look at you with those brown eyes and lick your hands. How could you not love it?," said Murphy.

The pet therapy program has been in place at the hospital for 16 years. Family members and friends who sit in on animal visits say they feel better too. 

If you'd like to learn more about volunteer opportunities at Aurora BayCare Medical Center, click here for more information.