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Midday pet parade offers stress relief for staff at UPMC Memorial

Dawn J. Sagert
York Dispatch

The Alliance of Therapy Dogs offered a midday stress relief opportunity for hospital staff with a pet therapy parade outside UPMC Memorial on Tuesday.

The national organization, which has been in service for three decades, has worked with UPMC Memorial, in West Manchester Township, since before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Teams of therapy dogs and handlers would come into the hospital and visit both patients’ rooms and staff along the way.

Because of volunteering restrictions at the hospital due to COVID-19, those visits have been paused.

Volunteers with Alliance of Therapy Dogs begin a Pet Therapy Parade at UPMC Memorial in West Manchester Township, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. The event offered hospital staff a chance to de-stress by stepping outside to visit with the therapy dogs. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“We decided to have this pet therapy parade to help our staff destress and just put some smiles on their faces,” said UPMC Memorial volunteer coordinator Jennifer Warfel.

Twelve teams from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs gathered outside the entrances to the hospital, and although masks may have covered their faces, their voices reflected their feelings.

“This is the most that I’ve smiled all day,” said hospital employee Malysha Lomax, of York City, after petting Julie, 2, a beagle who has been in service for a year.

Julie’s owner, Cindy Sheffer, of Jackson Township, says that she has missed going out into the community with Julie and the other teams.

“This makes you realize just how much it means to everybody … it means something to the dogs too. They know what they’re doing when they’re doing this,” said Sheffer. “It's been a very emotional day — a great day.”

Warfel said she hopes to be able to get the teams back inside the hospital for visits as soon as possible.

“We know how important that is for the well-being of our patients too,” Warfel said.