Therapy dog helps cancer patients in Appleton

APPLETON, Wis. - A therapy dog is bringing smiles to those battling cancer in Appleton.

Fitzgerald William, also known as "Fitz," is a four-year-old basset hound who works as a volunteer therapy dog. He visits ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center in Appleton once a week staying one to two hours.

His owner, Molly Johnson, and him have been traveling from Oconomowoc since November of 2016 to help patients receiving treatment pass the time.

"It's nice to have Fitz come in here," said patient Glen Schwark, "It breaks up monotonous days just sitting here, getting fed fluids, and it makes a good situation of a bad."

Fitz also has a brother, Murphy, who will become a therapy dog when he's older.

In 2010, ThedaCare At Home launched a pet therapy volunteer program that took off and expanded to 14 teams of handlers and dogs.

Hospital workers say pet therapy is beneficial to patients receiving treatment due to the release of the "feel-good" hormone, oxytocin.

Infusion Nurse, Amy Koelemay, says the chemical helps by decreasing the heart rate, lowering anxiety and reduces feelings of depression.

"When Fitz comes, it completely brightens the day of our patients and us as staff as well. It's fantastic for everybody. People don't want to be here. They don't want to have cancer, they don't want to be getting chemotherapy, we have the daunting task of giving people medication that makes them feel very sick and Fitz comes and makes them feel better." said Koelemay.

Therapy dogs must meet certain requirements for behavior and interaction with people and their environments, said Fitz's handler, Molly Johnson, owner and consultant with Canine Comfort, LLC of Oconomowoc. 

The dogs must be gentle and able to remain calm around equipment and unexpected loud noises.

To learn more about pet therapy, please contact Molly Johnson at

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