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Friday, October 15, 2021
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Eight Dogs On Call teams stood outside Meriter Hospital to greet staff as they celebrated the discharge of their 200th COVID-19 patient.

Dogs On Pause: How Dogs On Call is coping with COVID-19

Meet Izzie, a 12-year-old black Labrador Retriever therapy dog. Izzie loves visiting the University of Wisconsin campus and spending quality time with students, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she has become accustomed to long days at home with her owner Todd Trampe.

Izzie.jpg

Izzie has been a Dogs on Call therapy dog for nine years.

But soon, Izzie will return to bringing
smiles to the public.

“The goal is to share our pets—to bring
peace to students, to bring joy to
students, to get students the
opportunity to interact with our pets as
we certainly know they miss their own
pets at home,” said Trampe, the
University of Wisconsin Events
Coordinator for Dogs On Call.

Dogs on Call is a Madison-based
organization that works with schools,
hospitals, nursing homes and other
organizations to facilitate visits from
dogs and their handlers to help
individuals destress and enjoy some quality time with their animals.

While students and faculty alike have had to adapt as best they can to the countless changes that the past year has brought, many have relied on their dogs to help them adjust to isolation and new stressors. This is part of why the Dogs On Call is so eager to get back to campus, and why students have felt the loss of in-person events with the organization so heavily.

“There isn’t a place I have ever gone on a campus all these years that somebody was disappointed to see a dog,” Trampe reflected.

While the organization usually hosts multiple events each year on the UW-Madison campus, they have not been able to hold any in-person visits since early March of 2020, when in-person interactions were almost entirely paused due to health and safety concerns. Still, Dogs On Call has found ways to connect with individuals and spread positivity virtually, though the opportunities are somewhat limited. 

One of Dogs On Call’s most popular programs is Read With Me, where kids are able to read aloud to a dog to practice their communication skills. Some of the public libraries in Madison have had virtual reading times with Dogs On Call since the pandemic. The organization has also worked with some hospitals to provide digital encouragement for both doctors and patients.

“UnityPoint Meriter Hospital created a mural of Dogs On Call photos and heartening messages for ICU staff who definitely are in need of support,” said Karen Peckham, a coordinator for multiple local hospitals. “UW Hospital & Clinics created a video for all their volunteers, showing photos of the therapy dogs and what the dogs have been doing to fill their time during the pandemic.”

One of the only in-person events Dogs On Call hosted amidst the pandemic was also at UnityPoint Meriter Hospital. In October 2020, the hospital celebrated the discharge of their 200th COVID-19 patient, and to show appreciation for their staff, eight Dogs On Call teams waited outside the main entrance of the hospital. 

While the visit was hands-off for safety reasons, it was still a huge success.

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“They are used to seeing people and getting lots of petting; when the visitors kept their distance, I think the dogs were confused; ‘Why aren’t you petting me?!'” Peckham said. “But it was so nice to see [the] staff that we hadn’t seen for months and they enjoyed seeing the dogs, even if they couldn’t pet them.”

The pandemic has been a challenge for many of the dogs as well. Izzie has been a part of a therapy team for nine years, and in-person volunteering was extremely rewarding for her, Trampe said.

“Izzie really liked the pace of the visits. She liked a lot of interaction, lots of hands, lots of in and out,” he stated. Tramp and Izzie are both looking forward to getting back to in-person visits as the organization is beginning to coordinate with facilities to start easing back.

While their return to UW is not set in stone, Dogs on Call hopes to return to campus soon.

“In the past few weeks, some facilities have contacted us, letting us know they are ready to have the therapy animals return as soon as possible,” Peckham said. “Everyone knows it’s getting close, and they’re as excited as we are!”

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