DOVER — Deb Branscombe and her golden retriever, Buddy, visit Wentworth-Douglass Hospital every Wednesday, bringing a calming influence to both patients and staff.
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“We just roam around everywhere,” Branscombe said, noting how difficult it is to make their rounds and visit as many people as possible during their volunteer shift. “Everybody wants to stop, just for five or 10 minutes.”
Often it’s tough getting down a hospital hall or out of an office. “They say ‘We’re so glad it’s Wednesday. You just made our day so much better,’” she said. “So that’s why I do it.”
The Nottingham resident has brought therapy dogs to the hospital for 20 years with Buddy the most recent in a long line of dogs.
“He is the best as far as being empathetic,” she said. “He knows who needs him.”
She said he’ll go straight to someone and put his head on their knee as they’re sitting in a waiting room.
“He just knows. Even with me. He knows if I’m having a bad day,” she said.
Branscombe and Buddy also visit the Wentworth-Douglass urgent care and orthopedics facility at the Lee traffic circle each Monday. And the pair visits the University of New Hampshire’s Dimond Library during final exam weeks to give students a calming break from their end-of-the-semester anxiety.
“You almost can see it calm them,” she said. “I can see the worries go away. It just makes their day better.”
Before retiring, she worked at the hospital in physical therapy for eight years.
“I think I just love giving back. I loved working here. And I see how much of a difference he makes in people’s lives,” Branscombe said. “They thank me every time. Somebody will just stop me in the hall and say, ‘Thank you so much for being here.’”
There is training involved in volunteering to make dog therapy visits, and Branscombe and Buddy recently passed the tests that recertify them for the next two years. They work with Elder Pet in Durham.
Elder Pet began as an applied animal science project at UNH in 1982 and later became a nonprofit. It provides certified pet-partner therapy teams to local facilities that request visits and pet-related services to low-income senior citizens and people with disabilities who benefit greatly from having a pet, but can’t afford the cost of feeding and caring for a pet.
“Buddy has an effect on everybody. It’s wonderful,” she said of her volunteer work. “It’s just the best thing ever.”
To volunteer with Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, visit wdhospital.org/wdhf/giving/volunteer.
To volunteer with Elder Pet, visit elderpet.org.