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From left, members of Boulder Community Health’s Canine Corps Joy Wexels and her dog Chica; Paul Katsampes and his dog Maisie; Al Pollack and his dog Quigley; and Anne Walker and her dog Nina.
Photo credit: Boulder Community Health
From left, members of Boulder Community Health’s Canine Corps Joy Wexels and her dog Chica; Paul Katsampes and his dog Maisie; Al Pollack and his dog Quigley; and Anne Walker and her dog Nina. Photo credit: Boulder Community Health
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When Maisie, Nina or Chica arrive at Boulder Community Health and walk — on all fours — down the hall to the progressive care unit, smiles quickly spread across the faces of patients and staff who are anxiously waiting to greet them.

These furry guests are only a few of the 19 dogs that make up BCH’s Canine Corps team, which regularly visits both staff and patients at the hospital.

On Tuesday, BCH announced a recent $250,000 donation it received from Judi Cogen in honor of her mother, Lila Lee Cogen, and Lulu, her first dog who participated in the program. The donation will create the Cogen Therapy Dogs Endowment, which will help the program as it continues rebuilding its volunteer team after the coronavirus pandemic paused the dogs’ regular hospital visits, according to a news release from BCH.

“I’ve witnessed the power of dogs’ abilities to help patients heal from physical and mental health ailments,” said Cogen, a former volunteer for the BCH Canine Corps, in the news release. “Dogs really do make a world of difference in nurturing a sense of well-being.”

Jan Fincher, a longtime volunteer with the Canine Corps, said the program usually has about 25 to 30 volunteers. Thanks to the donation, it will have the ability to grow to about 40 to 50 volunteers.

“We now see opportunities to go into other facilities scattered throughout the county that we have not been able to reach,” she said.

All dogs accepted into the program must complete an assessment program to ensure they have the right personality for the work, and all handlers must also complete training.

“Our training is training the handler,” Fincher said. “The primary job is to protect their dog and make sure they are not put in situations that would be frightening or uncomfortable for them.”

A jar of treats awaits any therapy dog who visits the BCH progressive care unit, said Stephanie Vest, a nurse with the unit.

“I have worked at this hospital for 11 years, and the canines have been a bright spot for not just the patients but the staff,” she said. “When they walk on the floor, everyone brightens up. They are a wonderful resource for everyone.”

Vest said the dogs provide a welcome distraction for patients in the hospital who are struggling with medical issues. Whenever the staff asks someone if they want a visit from a dog, the majority of people, without hesitation say yes, she said.

“They help to lift people’s spirits, and the spirit is a really important part of a person’s healing,” Vest said.

More information on the program is available at bch.org/volunteer/.

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