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Dynamic duo: Ethel and Laurie on paw-trol at Sharp Grossmont

By The Health News Team | April 28, 2023
Sharp Pet Therapy Volunteer Claudia with Pet Therapy Dog Ethel

Sharp Grossmont Hospital volunteer, Laurie, with pet therapy dog, Ethel.

Over the years, Ethel the therapy dog has had three different owners. But don’t be fooled – she’s a very good girl! Her life has simply taken some turns. But she has always remained focused on her biggest priority: bringing puppy love to the patients and staff at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

Ethel, age 13, is a terrier-poodle mix. Her original owner, Claudia, was a pet therapy volunteer and teamed up with Ethel from 2014 to 2017 as members of Sharp Grossmont’s pet therapy brigade. Claudia’s previous pooch, Lucy, had been a therapy dog as well.

When Claudia passed away, her son, Kevin, inherited Ethel and chose to complete the training he needed to be a dog handler and volunteer himself. He and Ethel carried on Claudia’s legacy, volunteering at the hospital from 2017 until COVID came along and the volunteer program had to be put on hold. It was a doggone rough time for a working girl like Ethel.

Kevin’s household was also home to three cats and a small dog. Maybe it was the presence of the stepsiblings or Ethel’s preference to be an only child — we’ll never know — but over time, it became clear Ethel was very fond of Kevin’s neighbor, Laurie, and enjoyed spending time at her house.

A very neighborly thing to do

When Kevin traveled, Laurie — like a good neighbor — took Ethel into her own home and visited Kevin’s other pets at their house to feed, water and spend some quality time with them. Even when Kevin was home, Laurie spent time with Ethel, and the two continued to bond.

Laurie fondly remembers when their next chapter began. “I had taken a trip and was gone for 10 days,” she says. “When I came back, I learned that Ethel wasn’t happy. And it was not too long before Kevin asked me if I’d like to take Ethel as my own dog.”

Clearly, the answer was a howling yes.

Laurie, like Kevin before her, completed the training she needed to become Ethel’s third handler and a volunteer at Sharp Grossmont. The two began patrolling the hospital floors together in 2022, looking for patients and staff who would benefit from some four-legged solace. Laurie says she soon found out she’d be playing a costarring role in their adventures — her Robin to Ethel’s Batman, if you will.

“Way more people know who Ethel is than know who I am,” laughs Laurie. “It was four months of working with the hospital before anyone asked who I was. 'What’s the dog’s name?’ they’d ask. But nobody asked my name.”

A prefect product of rigorous training and belly rubs

Ethel and Laurie are trained by Therapy Dogs International (TDI), an organization dedicated to providing qualified handlers and dogs to volunteer at institutions, such as hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities. The dogs must endure thorough training and pass rigorous standards.

On top of common commands, the dogs learn they must be gentle, refrain from jumping up on people and — no matter how excited they may be — avoid barking at all costs. Because she’s had three owners, Ethel is ahead of the pack with three rounds of training.

When Ethel visited a patient recently, her training was on full display. She’s no Great Dane, and hospital beds are tall, but she knew not to jump up or make sudden movements when she stood on her hind legs to greet them. Her actions were gentle and deliberate, keeping the patient at ease and engaged.

However, a gal has to let her fur down and loosen her collar every now and then. So, at home, things can get a little wild. Because all work — and no play — is no fun for anyone.

“She is such a good girl when we’re at the hospital,” says Laurie. “But nobody would ever know that she barks like a hyena when somebody rings the doorbell at our house. She can be a dog at home.”

It’s clear to Laurie why dogs like Ethel unleash a genuine feeling of joy in patients.

“A lot of times it reminds them of home,” says Laurie. “It encourages them to talk about pleasant times and they can feel better, even in the hospital, and forget about the fact that they’re sick for a while. And when there’s a dog around, life is just better.”

Thanks to Claudia, Kevin and now, Laurie, Ethel can remain gainfully employed — working like a dog and loving every minute of it.

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