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Hospital therapy dog program receives award

The volunteers received the 2019 John Henry Award

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
Therapy Dogs Karma, left, and Honey, right, gather in the lobby of San Juan Regional Medical Center Friday after posing for a photo. The Therapy Pet program received an award during the 13th Annual Behavioral Health Day at the Legislature.
  • The group was recognized for its work in response to the Aztec High School shooting on Dec. 7, 2017.
  • The group attended the teacher debriefing session at Aztec High and sat in with students as they spoke to counselors about their experiences.
  • The group and the therapy dogs are written into the San Juan County and the hospital's crisis management plan.

FARMINGTON —The lobby of San Juan Regional Medical Center was full of canine activity Friday as volunteers in the Therapy Dog program discussed their recent award as they were recognized for providing comfort to the community following a tragic shooting.

The team of therapy dogs and volunteers were awarded the 2019 John Henry Award as part of the 13th Annual Behavioral Health Day Wednesday at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

As part of Senate Memorial 16, the Behavioral Health Planning Council recognizes "Stars" in the community.

The group were nominated by San Juan County Partnership Executive Director Pamela Drake, according to volunteer Sara Kaynor.

"I was totally surprised," volunteer Becky Houghton said. "I was happy to be a representative of a group and promote the therapy dogs in the community."

Pet Therapy volunteers, from left to right, Helen Taylor, Sarah Kaynor, Marla Sipes, Melissa Salyers and Becky Houghton pose with their dogs for a photo Friday in the lobby of San Juan Regional Medical Center.

The group was recognized for their work in response to the Aztec High School Shooting on Dec. 7, 2017, and for providing support to those in need following the incident.

Kaynor stated while the main focus of the award may have been their response to the incident, the award also recognized the group as a key department at the hospital.

The group and the therapy dogs are written into the San Juan County and hospital's crisis management plan, according to Kaynor.

Marla Sipes, alongside her therapy dogs Karma and Honey, spoke about how data has shown therapy dogs can help lower people's blood pressure and help people get out of bed in the morning if they are depressed.

Alberta Hobson, right, pets one of the therapy dogs as Helen Taylor, left, and Sarah Kaynor, center, wrangle the dogs in the lobby Friday of San Juan Regional Medical Center.

From her trip to the Roundhouse, Sipes believe those attending the Annual Behavioral Health Day learned about the impact the therapy dogs can have.

"They saw the dog's capacity to provide comfort and care and trust and compassion to these people," Sipes said. "Sometimes, it's just unexplainable."

Members of the group would attend the teacher debriefing session at Aztec High and sit in on students speaking to counselors about their experience.

Kaynor spoke about one time a student wouldn't respond to a counselor's questions until they all sat on the floor and the juvenile would reply to the counselor's questions by speaking to the dog.

"It was much more safe for them in talking to the dog than the person they didn't really know," Kaynor said. "It was amazing."

Rosie, left and Sophie, right, rest Friday in the lobby of San Juan Regional Medical Center.

The group likes making the rounds at the hospital as the dogs provide relief for patients and their families.

As the volunteers and their dogs gathered for a photo, the dogs would constantly approach people entering or exiting the hospital and interact those who would pet them or scratch their heads.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.