“Luna, do you want to go see the kids?” is all it takes for the curly fluffball to start hopping up and down more like a bunny than a 70-pound goldendoodle. Every other week, pet therapy volunteer Karen Rizzo and the cuddly canine visit patients at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital where it’s nearly impossible to tell who gets more out of each visit.
Melani, a patient in the Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute, sums up the program without uttering a single word. The hug says it all.
“Melani looks forward to pet therapy at every admission on her journey to recovery,” says Nathalie, Melani’s mom. “She looks forward to seeing all the wonderful pets, and we love having Karen and Luna every chance we get. She is so sweet.”
“This brings me so much joy. It combines two things I cherish – kids and dogs. I love them both so much that I knew this is where I need to be,” says Rizzo, who started volunteering nearly six years ago with a 90-pound Dobermann named Summer who helped pave the way for dogs visiting kids in the cancer institute.
Dogs need to be certified in pet therapy for admission into the program. “Not every dog can be a therapy dog,” Rizzo says. “Summer was empathic. She could read a child’s mood. Luna, well … She’s a cuddler.”
As the vaccine comes to the frontline workers, a world of possibilities begins to open up.
For Gavin, the hospital isn’t all about challenges and adversity. It’s about giving joy to others.
The holidays she has altered to care for kids are too many to count, but as she retires, she leaves much for patients and colleagues to be thankful.
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