By AMBER POMPA
Darcy, 4-year old, 140-pound Newfoundland, spends her Thursday afternoons visiting patients at Hunt Memorial Hospital District.
Darcy is a certified therapy dog through Pet Partners, formerly called the Delta Society. Delta Partners is an international 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that helps people live healthier and happier lives by incorporating therapy, service and companion animals into their lives.
Darcy has lived in her home with the Klepin Family since she was 3-months old.
“A lot of people ask us where she lives,” said Dianne Klepin. “I think a lot of them assume she lives in a kennel somewhere and we just pick her up on Thursdays, bring her to the hospital and then take her back. Nothing is farther from the truth. She is a part of our family and she wants for nothing.”
That is certainly true. Due to a sensitive digestive tract, Darcy eats nothing but venison and dried sweet potatoes and has a bell in the home that she rings when she’s thirsty, hungry or just wondering where everyone is.
“It’s her room service bell,” said Dianne. “She used to use it to tell us she had to go outside, but now she uses it for any and all of her wants.”
Darcy may be spoiled, but she’s far from rotten, giving of her time and energy to help bolster the spirits of those residing in the Rehabilitation Center and Behavioral Health Unit at the Greenville hospital.
At nine weeks old, Dianne and her daughter, Francesca began training her with the aim of becoming Pet Partners.
“The training was extensive,” said Dianne. “A lot of it just came naturally to Darcy, though. I think it’s more about the Newfoundland breed. It’s probably 75 percent breed and 25 percent training.”
Dianne, Francesca and Darcy attended weekly training classes the first year of Darcy’s life. As the test to become certified grew closer, they began going two to three times a week.
Darcy passed with ease when being led by Dianne, but took two times to pass with Francesca.”
“It was more difficult for Francesca since they have such a “buddy” relationship,” said Dianne.
Darcy and the Klepins don’t miss a single trip to the hospital, where Darcy visits as many patients as she has time for. If they can’t make it on a Thursday they call and reschedule.
“We do this because she’s such an important part in the patients healing process,” said Dianne. “Often we have patients waiting out in the hall in their wheelchairs because they heard Darcy was coming that day. Many of them tell us that her visits are the best part of their week. How could we miss that?”
Darcy instinctively knows what the patients need, even those who try to avoid her.
“I remember one such patient,” reminisced Dianne. “Darcy came into the room and the woman was in her bed, with her face turned away from everyone. Darcy went right up to her and after a minute, licked her cheek. The woman broke out into a huge grin and said, ‘My, aren’t you forward on the first date!’”
According to Dianne, they have many such stories. Some of them are enough to bring tears to your eyes and that is one of the main reasons why the Klepin Family chose to become Pet Partners.
“I’d say she probably brightens the day of at least 25 patients a week, maybe more,” said Dianne. “What she gives them is unconditional love and acceptance and that’s priceless for a lot of these patients, especially the ones on the Behavioral Heath Unit. She just seems to know what each individual patient needs, in addition to being so careful around them.”
After her Thursday trips, Darcy returns home to sleeps for the next 24 to 48 hours.
“She’s completely exhausted afterwards,” said Dianne. “I’m not sure why. There’s some sort of energy or excitement involved that wears her out. It’s different from anything else she does. When we go places and she’s bombarded with people wanting to pet and love her she’s fine afterward. I think its the work she does at the hospital, how she knows when and what to do, that wears her out.”
According to Raymond Lenz, program director of the Acute Rehabilitation Unit at HMHD, Darcy is an invaluable resource in the patients’ recovery.
“I’m a big believer in Animal Assisted Therapy,” said Lenz. “Right now she’s only in visitation, but eventually we want to get her involved in the patients actual therapy, but that’s down the road.”
According to Lenz, it’s the fact that so many of the patients on the seventh floor have pets at home that they are separated from during recovery that’s explains why she makes such an impact.
According to Dianne, that’s what keeps them coming back again and again.
“I thought the sweetness that she shows us should be shared,” said Dianne when asked why they wanted to get Darcy into Animal Assisted Therapy. “She doesn’t withhold anything, not kisses, not affection. She withholds nothing from those who want it and she does give the sweetest kisses.”