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Jo Ann McMillan with her dog Rose

Therapy dog and handler bond with patients

Rose is a good dog. She sits and stays when she’s told. She’s friendly and gentle. And she’s beloved by patients, guests, and staff at Spartanburg Regional Hospice Home.

Rose is a certified therapy dog. Her owner and handler, Jo Ann McMillan, volunteers with Rose each Monday at the Hospice Home.

“I enjoy the connection with people and seeing a patient smile,” said McMillan.

And Rose has a way of making people smile. On a morning in June, she visited with two patients who each seemed to enjoy her company. A woman whose daughter invited McMillan and Rose into the room smiled as the British Golden Retriever licked her hand.

Another patient was by himself in a room and seemed to appreciate having company – from both dog and human. He commented on Rose’s polite behavior.

“You’re a good one,” he said.

The visit led to a conversation about the man’s family and his career, including his service during World War II. He joked and shared stories with McMillan.

Rose is one of six therapy dogs who visit the hospice home. Each dog has undergone special training and received certification through an approved agency. Training includes mastery of basic commands as well as experience interacting with people in a wheelchair. Dogs are tested to see how they react to loud noises and sudden movements.

The dogs’ handlers must go through volunteer training with the health care system, said hospice volunteer manager Kelly Hall.

Hall said volunteer training sessions take place several times throughout the year, and applications are accepted any time. Altogether, there are roughly 90 volunteers with Spartanburg Regional Hospice.

"The Therapy Dog program is a valuable extension of the volunteer program,” Hall said. “The atmosphere at the hospice home brightens when any of the dogs are in the building.” 

She noted that it’s not only patients who benefit from their presence – family members and hospice staff appreciate visits from the therapy dogs, too.

Louis Stiles, RN, enjoys seeing the animals come to the hospice home, and he believes they make a difference for some patients.

“Absolutely – I think there’s a connection there between dogs and people who love dogs,” he said. “Some patients who haven’t responded to human touch will respond to touching a dog.”

For McMillan, volunteering with Rose connects her back to the early days of her career in health care, when she was a nurse in Greenwood, SC.

“I think I was a good bedside nurse,” she said. “And I love caring for patients.”

Spartanburg Regional Hospice is special to McMillan. In the 1990s, she became the first executive director of Spartanburg Regional Foundation. She worked closely with hospice staff, volunteers, and donors in the creation of the Foundation’s Hospice Division, which supports fundraising efforts to benefit patients and families.

McMillan was with the Foundation during the campaign to raise money for the construction of the Spartanburg Regional Hospice Home. She believes it is a special place, and she has enjoyed having the opportunity to work with staff members at the facility.

“Everybody comes over to see Rose, and they’re just the kindest people in the world,” she said. “They are just like family.”

To become a volunteer with Spartanburg Regional Hospice, contact Kelly Hall at 864-560-5636 or apply online.