Pet therapy means quality time together for this couple


February is a month devoted to flowers, chocolates and “I love you’s,” but for those receiving treatment in the hospital, it can be a lonely time, especially for patients who don't have family nearby.

Thanks to Mountain States Health Alliance’s (MSHA) Patient-Centered Care philosophy, programs like Pet Therapy can help spread the love to those who need it most, and it’s also gratifying for those who provide the pet therapy. Although the normal Valentine’s routine might involve a trip to dinner and a movie, volunteering together can make for a truly rewarding date.

“Pet Therapy is an amazing program and I feel lucky to be a part of it,” said Harriett Carmine.

She and her husband, Dave, have been volunteering with MSHA at Johnson City Medical Center since July 2012. The Carmines frequent the hospital with their friendly Shih Tzu, Marcie, to help brighten the days of patients, nurses and everyone they meet in between.

The couple have been married for 45 years and say that volunteering together makes for a great time.

“It’s a cheap date, too!” Dave said with a laugh. “We’ve been volunteering since we were young, but this is the first time we’ve done something with one of our animals.”

The Carmines were first introduced to the idea when they were taking Marcie to classes at PetSmart. There they met Van Cooper, MSHA’s Patient-Centered Care project coordinator, who thought Marcie would be a good fit for the program.

Marcie certainly lights up the room when she arrives to see patients at JCMC. She entertains her audience with little tricks and kisses and when Harriett gives the command to “dance pretty,” Marcie will prance in delight on her hind legs.

Since the Shih-Tzu breed is a traditional lap dog, Marcie is the perfect size for patients to hold in their arms. The Carmines say this is one of the most rewarding things to see when they are visiting patients. Harriett said that many times tears of joy roll down a patient’s face when they hold the 11-pound dog.

“Oftentimes the patients we visit are in a great deal of pain,” Harriett said. “But for a few minutes they forget all about it when they see Marcie.”

Even the nurses and doctors stop to pet Marcie. Harriett said the staff is always happy to see pet therapy volunteers and will suggest the patients to visit who could really use the encouragement from a furry friend.

“We see this as just one of the ways we can provide comfort and support for our patients,” Cooper said.

“Recent studies have shown that a person holding or petting an animal will have a decrease in blood pressure, a release of strain and tension, and may be drawn out from loneliness and depression. The decrease in anxiety is wonderful. These dogs help take the patient’s mind off their illness.”

The Carmines are just two of MSHA’s many volunteers who help bring love and encouragement to patients. What better way to celebrate the month of Valentine’s Day than to spend time with your significant other by volunteering together?

To learn more on volunteer opportunities visit For more on MSHA's Pet Therapy program, contact Van Cooper at 423-431-6681 (office) or 423-943-7419 (cell), or at


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