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Therapy dogs a hit at OMC health fair

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Samuel Feirer, 5, and his father Matthew of Rochester, Minn. had an opportunity to meet Boots and Kate Herness one of six volunteer canine therapy teams in the OMC Canine Companion program during the first annual OMC Safety Fair Saturday morning July 27, 2013. Canine Companion started in February and volunteers are making visits to the OMC Hospital.

It was the first Summer Health and Safety Day at Olmsted Medical Center but at least one attendee found the proceedings utterly unexciting.

Boots, a 7-year-old therapy dog, lazed in the sun Saturday morning while around her kids took part in a bicycle rodeo, balloons were twisted into animal shapes and a fire truck drew the attention of the curious of all ages. And of course, everyone wanted to pet a therapy dog.

"Obviously, they have to have a great disposition," Boots' owner, Kate Herness, a member of OMC's Canine Companions team, said of therapy dogs.

Boots qualified after taking a class and passing tests, and now visits patients in various health care settings, including OMC hospital rooms.

"She really does enjoy it," Herness said. "She brings a lot of smiles to people.You come into kind of a sad situation and when you leave, people have a smile on their face. Their focus changes to something happy instead of anxiety."


Therapy dogs are taught to ignore any offerings or opportunities for food and treats, and generally are not allowed on patients' beds. But they are readily available for petting, reminiscing and conversation in their visits, which usually last about five to 10 minutes for each patient.

Boots was the Herness family dog for six years before becoming a therapy dog. "Personally, I have lupus and she has been good therapy for me," Herness said. "I knew she'd be a comfort to other people. We were right."

The safety fair was designed to make health and safety issues fun for the 1,100 OMC employees and their families, said Fawn Hangge, co-chair of the OMComplete Well-being employee committee. There were demonstrations and information booths about everything from child seats to bicycle helmets.

"Personal well-being is much more than diet and exercise," Hangge said. "It's also about things like weather preparedness. What do you do in a storm?"

Family and colleague connections are emphasized, as well. And employees are encouraged to make healthy choices as often as possible — while also being realistic.

"We have a choice everyday to do something that makes us healthier," Hangge said. "You don't always have to say 'No' to the doughnut."

Of course, Boots, the therapy dog, always does have to say 'No' to treats. She also has to ignore commotion, adjust to strange smells and surroundings, and has to show proper etiquette on a hospital elevator. It can be exhausting.

"When we go home after a therapy visit, she'll sleep for about four hours," Herness said.


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Kami Owens, 2, reaches out to her mother Kelly to get some help out of the drivers seats of a Rochester Fire Department engine during the first annual OMC Safety Fair Saturday morning July 27, 2013. Visits were able to get close to several emergency vehicles and talk with personnel. There was also a bike rodeo, therapy dogs, and car seat safety.

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