Wednesdays are special days at Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver. That’s when Human-Animal Bond in Colorado (HABIC) volunteer team Kathleen Huggins and her partner Jimmy do their rounds.
“We go to about four or five different areas and visit with patients and many associates too,” said Huggins. “They look forward to Jimmy’s rounds. He also visits several employees on the main level. Jimmy has made many friends.”
HABIC trains volunteer teams in animal-assisted therapy in order to work in hospitals, schools, health care centers, and many other places in Colorado. Huggins and Jimmy have volunteered as a HABIC team since 2018. Their partnership has been the result of good luck as well as personal dedication to helping others.
Huggins was lucky to have found Jimmy through the Denver Dumb Friends League in 2016. “They asked if we would accept a different breed, but I said we preferred a Springer,” she said. “We had always had Springer Spaniels, and our last had passed away in 2014.”
The folks at Denver Dumb Friends League weren’t sure when a Springer Spaniel would become available. They didn’t appear at the shelter very often, but Huggins was willing to wait. “We had checked with Springer rescue, but no match had worked out. I put myself on the list with DDFL. Less than 2 months passed, and I got a call!”
New starts for dog and handler
“Jimmy came from Oklahoma,” said Huggins. “He had lived two years with a family who gave him up due to lack of room. He spent two months in a shelter and was transferred to Colorado. It was love at first sight when my daughters and I met him that next day. He was just as sweet as he is today.”
At that time, Huggins had also just formally retired from a 45-year career in nursing, and sought to continue working as a volunteer. “After I retired, I immediately signed up to volunteer at St. Joe’s Hospital,” she said. “I needed to continue that connection to patients.”
Fortune struck again when Huggins discovered she could combine her relationship with Jimmy and her love for working as a volunteer in a health care setting.
“I would often walk Jimmy to our local pet shop. While we were there he would lie down and let all the employees play and cuddle with him,” Huggins said. “It was those gals who suggested I get him into volunteering at a hospital.”
“I mentioned this to Nancy, the coordinator at my volunteer job at St Joe’s,” said Huggins. “At the time I had no idea they had pet volunteers. She was overjoyed that I had a potential pup for the job!”
Making the most of their partnership
When Huggins and Jimmy connected with HABIC, ‘Lady Luck’ smiled on the pair one more time. The orientation and training site for new volunteer teams in the Denver area is Denver Hospice. “Since the training was at the hospice,” Higgins said, “we decided to volunteer there too!”
“We work at the front desk at Denver Hospice,” said Huggins. “Jimmy greets the visitors whom we escort to patients’ rooms. He spends a lot of time with families, almost more than with patients, as they really enjoy his company and need the distraction.”
Both Huggins and Jimmy truly seem to thrive on their two volunteer jobs. “Seeing how happy he makes everyone,” she said, “from patients to families to staff at both facilities, is plenty of motivation for us to keep on going!”
“It’s now well-known at St. Joe’s that Wednesday is ‘Jimmy Day,’ and employees are on the lookout for him, and tell patients that they will get some ‘Jimmy time,’” Huggins added, on their motivation to continue as a HABIC team.
“HABIC gave me the confidence that Jimmy and I could do this together,” said Huggins of the human-animal bond training. “A short or long visit with a pet can be so mood-lifting. I think that everyone needs love from a furry friend, whether they know it or not!”
It seems the luckiest ones in the end are the people at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Denver Hospice who are now visited by this cheerful and energetic HABIC team.
About Human-Animal Bond in Colorado
Founded in 1993, Human-Animal Bond in Colorado (HABIC) is a center in the School of Social Work, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. HABIC’S mission is to improve the quality of life for people of all ages through the therapeutic use of companion animals, with particular focus in the areas of community outreach, teaching, and research.