In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

January 12, 2017

Family Helped by Pet Therapy Gives Back by Getting Some Fur in the Game

By In the Loop

After a pet therapy team visited her daughter in the hospital several years ago, Mayo Clinic volunteer Cindi Thurston vowed to make the same kind of meaningful impact in the lives of patients one day. And now, she is … with the help of her four-legged partner, Watson.

Cindi Thurston's first encounter with a therapy dog may have come under unfortunate circumstances, but the imprint it left would change her life for the better. In a column for Wisconsin's Dunn County News, Cindi writes that first meeting took place while her then 10-year-old daughter was hospitalized with a serious medical condition. "We were hours away from home, spending nights in the hospital, and watching my daughter struggle," she writes. "We tried movies, books, crafts and anything we could think of to take our minds off her condition.

Then one morning a pet therapy team came to visit. "The dog was placed on my daughter's hospital bed, and I could feel some of the anxiety and stress go away for her and me," Cindi writes. "The dog was cute, cuddly and happy, all of which we needed at the time." Though the interaction was brief, its impact was not. "I promised myself I would someday try to pay back that gift given to us by that pet therapy team," Cindi writes.

That opportunity would present itself in the form of her family's own cute and cuddly golden retriever named Watson. Cindi tells us she knew he would make a great therapy dog. "Watson loves life and everything about it," she says of the now 4 ½-year-old dog. "His mom was a therapy dog, and like her, he loves people and is never hesitant about meeting someone new," Cindi tells us. "We knew going into hospitals and clinics wouldn't be a problem for him."

Before that could happen, however, both Cindi and Watson would need to go through a pet therapy team training and certification program. Cindi tells us their chance came when Watson's trainer mentioned that, in addition to giving obedience classes, she'd also be offering Pet Partners pet therapy training classes for Mayo Clinic. "She asked if we'd be interested, and I said, 'Absolutely,'" Cindi says.

After passing the certification test this past spring, Watson and Cindi have found their place as official pet therapy volunteers at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire. And after some additional hospice-specific training, they're now making their own imprint on the Hospice Program.

"One patient in particular we had visited three times, and she hadn't said a word to us," Cindi writes. "However, she always made eye contact." When Cindi and Watson returned a fourth time, things changed. "As we were leaving, I said to her that we would stop again soon to see her," Cindi writes. The patient replied, "I hope you do," Cindy recalls. "I knew at that moment that Watson and I were making a difference, and were giving back what my daughter and I were given in the hospital so many years before."

You can read the rest of Cindi and Watson's story here. For more information on the benefits of pet therapy, click here, or email Mayo Clinic Volunteer Services. Then be sure to leave us a comment below before you use the social media tools to share this story with others.

Tags: Cindi Thurston, Mayo Clinic Health System, Patient Stories, Therapy Dogs

Wonderful testimony. I too am part of a therapy dog team here in the Houston area. And my golden retriever and I have experienced similar encounters. Such a fulfilling mission. I also visit several hospitals and a nonprofit hospice. Blessings to Cindi and Watson!

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