Pet Therapy at CHOC Hospital in Orange County

19 years old Jeremy was sitting in his bed with various tubes attached to his wiry frame.  His dyed green hair from last week was now a distant memory.  He wore a red cap to cover a bald head.  The cap had a white paw print on it, which he pointed to and smiled, “I’ve been waiting for them”.

Jeremy invited Don and Carole Melvin’s pet therapy dogs into his room at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC).  He was eager to visit with the Shetland Sheepdogs {Shelties}, Shellie and Lady.  His friends and family welcomed our group and the room lit up with smiles and laughter.  Jeremy was one of several patients we visited that morning.  He, like all those we visited, basked in the affection and comfort the dogs provided.

Don and Carol Melvin of Anaheim volunteer with their three adorable Shetland Sheepdogs: Lady, Missy, and Shellie.   Only two dogs may visit the hospital at a time.  Each dog needs to have a separate handler.  On today’s visit, the two lucky dogs were beautiful Lady and Shellie.  When they stroll the hospital halls, all the children take notice.  Even the busy Nurses and Doctors paused from their daily routines to greet the spotless canine pair.  They were impeccably groomed. Rightfully so, the Melvin’s spend over 6 hours each morning cleaning and preparing the two dogs for their hospital visit. 

Interestingly, Don and Carol are empty nesters, and were not considering owning a pet after their children left home.  They hadn’t owned a dog for 17 years.  Besides, Carol wasn’t even a “dog person”.  Then in 2001, Don shared  “I watched an Animal Planet program where a dog slept on the bed next to a boy in a coma.”  “Not long after, the boy woke up. I couldn’t believe it”.  Don was so moved, he knew pet therapy was what he was meant to do in his golden years.  Shortly there after, Lady was purchased and pet therapy training began.  Two more Shelties were then added.  Shellie came along in 2004, and Missy arrived in 2007.

Lady, Shellie, and Missy, along with Don and Carol, are all certified by the Delta Society.  It is a non-profit organization that partners hospitals with pet therapy animals.  In order to participate in CHOC’s pet therapy program, all canine volunteers must register with the Society.  I can further testify both dogs shared the sweet and calm disposition needed for a therapy dog.  They are smart and obedient, stable and reliable.  They allowed both familiar and unfamiliar people to squeeze and love them.  I watched as they thoroughly enjoyed the happiness they provided to children.  They willingly were lifted onto a child’s lap or bed.  They sat or lied comfortably, often taking a brief snooze while patients stroked their silky long haired coats.

As for Jeremy and all the other children at CHOC, I will share with you what my lens captured.  I did see painful situations, but when those dogs entered hospital rooms, blood pressure decreased and stress and anxiety diminished for just a few brief minutes.  The feeling when the dogs entered the room was a welcome change from the constant medical visits from doctors and nurses.   Rather than the normal tenseness and anxiety that the routine of exams and painful procedures entail, the dogs exuded relaxation, comfort, and peace.  When those dogs sat in a child’s lap, you could see just how special it made the children feel.   Twelve year old Marie, who was quiet as a mouse, began to sparkle right before my eyes while Shellie cozied up to her.  You could see her spirits lift like a hot air balloon.

Thank you Don and Carole for all the volunteer time you give.  Pet Therapy heals in ways not understood by today’s medicine.  Thank you CHOC for understanding that when these adoring canines are present, not only children but their parents feel a little less alone; less alone in a place where your night and days  blend together, only interrupted by endless medical procedures.

Thank you Shellie and Lady for letting us love you.

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with the amazing Don, Carole, Lady and Shellie Melvin.

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  1. God bless Don and Carol for their work with those beautiful dogs. Thank you for the touching and beautiful photographs. I have tears in my eyes and I can only pray for all those children and their families and be so thankful that I have three healthy, happy children.

  2. These are the moments that truly put things into perspective. I see so many angels in these pictures. What a beautiful piece.

  3. Toni Jackson says

    I too have a therapy dog and your heart just melts when you see the smile on childrenS faces. I would like information on participating if possibl. You are doing a GREAT thing.

  4. Great post Kathleen! What a wonderful service Don & Carol are doing for those kids. Dogs are true healers.

  5. I love this. I am wiping the tears. Your photography is so moving, you have a way of capturing people beautifully. We need more people like you in this world. I love your heart.

  6. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing.

    I absolutely agree, comfort heals in a way not know to medical science. The photos of Jeremy with the dogs made my throat clench with emotion. Thank you sweet Kathleen for this story. Terrific.

  7. Bill and Ruth Issler says

    Thank you so much Don and Carole for being so committed to bring God’s love through those beautiful dogs to many children who look forward to your visits.
    May the Lord richly bless you Bill and Ruth

  8. Lindsey Garrett says

    What a great recap Kathleen. You captured the kids and those Shelties beautifully. I’m so glad those kids have those dogs, there is nothing better than LOVE to truly heal.

    Awesome job Don and Carole!

  9. Lindsey Garrett says

    feel free to correct my horrible typos 😀

  10. Your photos tell it all. Precious babes who have been brought low ministered to by beautiful creatures with healing gifts.
    Kelly von Hemert recent posted..Crushing on Hamilton Oaks

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