This year, there are two Volunteers of the Year at Memorial Hospital — and one has four legs.
The hospital named Kelly Skiptunas of Wrightsville and her 8-year-old Rottweiler, Spencer, 2014's Volunteers of the Year for bringing joy to patients and staff, said spokesman Jason McSherry.
The two received the award on April 8, during National Volunteer Week, when the hospital recognizes and thanks its volunteers during a ceremony, he said.
"They are amazing volunteers, and they do so much for the patients and even the staff members here at Memorial Hospital," McSherry said. "Everybody just lights up when they see them coming."
Helping to heal: Studies have shown therapy dogs in a hospital setting help to lower blood pressure in patients, help them relax and improve their state of mind, ultimately assisting in the healing process, Skiptunas said in an email.
Spencer has his therapy dog certification from Therapy Dogs Inc., as well as his Therapy Dog and Canine Good Citizen titles from the American Kennel Club, she said.
Skiptunas and Spencer visit anyone who wants to see them at the hospital, she said. They visit the first- and second-floor patient rooms, intensive care unit, emergency department and many offices and waiting rooms, Skiptunas said.
"Spencer is a fun-loving dog who keeps me on my toes and makes everyone laugh with the silly things he manages to do on our visits," she said.
He loves stuffed animals and sometimes "borrows" them from the patients or the hospital gift shop, Skiptunas said.
He also has quite the vocal range, she said: He has become known as "Pava-Rottie" by the kids they visit at Park Elementary School in Columbia, Lancaster County.
'Wonderful breed': All three of Skiptunas' Rottweilers are certified therapy dogs, she said.
"We have been blessed to have such wonderful dogs in our lives, so I want to share them with as many people as I can," she said.
The breed has a reputation for being "nasty" and not suitable to be doing pet therapy work, Skiptunas said.
"I strive with each and every visit to dispel those myths about this wonderful breed," she said.
Skiptunas said she tries to educate people about the importance of getting a dog from a responsible breeder, as well as doing proper training and socialization to ensure the dog is a pleasant member of society.
Spencer is an American Kennel Club Grand Champion and a Reading Education Assistance Dog. He's following in the paw prints of his older half brother, Benny, who also volunteered at Memorial, she said. In 2012, Benny was the first Rottweiler to be honored with the American Kennel Club Humane Fund Award for Canine Excellence.
He passed away last year, but his caring legacy continues on, Skiptunas said.
"Benny did not win Volunteer of the Year at Memorial Hospital, so Spencer is well on his way to living up to Benny's high standards," she said.