Therapy dog makes patients, staff smile
Maya Belle and Ray Rauen have been turning heads at St. Mary Mercy Hospital, Livonia for nearly three years.
“It shocks the heck out of some people when we walk by. They don’t notice me. They notice Maya — ‘oh, there is a dog.’ I’ll walk by (a patient room) slowly and listen. Sometimes they’ll say ‘Was that a dog?’ Or they’ll point and I’ll ask if they want us to visit.
“They light up and talk about their dogs or the dogs they’ve had,” Rauen said. “There was a patient in ICU that had to wear a full-face oxygen mask. He would pet Maya and try to talk through the mask. One time we came by and there was a sign up that said ‘No visitors except Maya.’ It cracked me up. He got well and went to another floor and we chased him there. He moved again and we chased him to that spot. St. Mary’s has a follow-up program when people who go home, to make sure they are doing well. They said he had a big picture of Maya on his refrigerator. He said that was what made him get well in the hospital.”
Since Maya Belle, a therapy dog, and Rauen, her “dad,” began volunteering at St. Mary Mercy together, they have comforted countless patients and their families, made numerous friends among staff members, gained a following on Facebook and have become frequent attendees at hospital events.
Along the way they’ve earned two awards. Maya Belle made hospital history when she became the only canine to earn the L.O.V.E. award in 2012, a year after she started volunteering at St. Mary Mercy. The monthly honor recognizes employees or volunteers who are committed to the hospital’s core values of reverence, justice, stewardship, integrity and a commitment to the poor.
The hospital honored the pair again, last week. It created the Bow WOW award specifically for Maya Belle and Rauen after they received more than 18 nominations for the L.O.V.E. award while logging more than 2,300 volunteer hours over three years
“St. Mary is great about the flexibility we have. We can come in whenever we want. We are allowed almost everywhere…waiting rooms, patient rooms, ICU. It makes it a great place to be a therapy team. People need it. I’ve had doctors say, hey, can you stop by and see this little boy or that little girl. They’re crying. Can you distract them?Or we’ll get paged — ‘Maya the therapy dog to room so and so.’
Rauen describes the four-year-old German shepherd-Labrador retriever mix as “mellow” with the perfect mix of personality, smarts and obedience for the job.
But her talents weren’t immediately apparent.
Rauen and his wife, Shirley, decided to rescue a dog after their family cat died four years ago. They found Maya Belle, then 5 months, at the Michigan Humane Society. She was shy and “looked so downtrodden,” Rauen recalled. The couple took her home and Rauen, enrolled her in six weeks of obedience and leash training, followed by 16 weeks of off-leash training. Trainers told him she would make a good therapy dog, so Rauen had her evaluated when she was 14 months old. She passed her tests and was registered through Therapy Dogs International.
“I started at a Lutheran nursing home. I’d visit once a week for an hour and in the meantime got an invite to a school to show what therapy dogs are all about,” said Rauen, who owns a machine shop. He worked for a few months at Botsford Hospital and then started volunteering at St. Mary Mercy.
“There are other dogs in the hospital that do the same thing we do. But I choose to be there more than most.” In addition to visiting with patients, the pair attends hospital events, such as fundraisers, ribbon-cutting ceremonies for new facilities, or wellness programs.
“We show up and learn about the hospital,” he said. “I do sewing, also. I’ve sewn all kinds of vests (for Maya Belle) with replaceable panels that snap on. The panels sport reminders about breast cancer awareness, peripheral artery disease awareness or numerous other health concerns. “It’s like a walking billboard.”
What does Maya Belle think of her work and her awards?
“People ask me how Maya likes it. I tell them Maya won’t talk about it because of HIPAA (privacy rule),” Rauen said. “She loves car rides. We show up at the hospital and there are the people she enjoys seeing, and you can just see her wagging her butt.”
~Via Hometown Life