The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Meet Hannah, an 8-Year-Old Collie, Who is Lowering Blood Pressure at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Meet Hannah, an 8-Year-Old Collie, Who is Lowering Blood Pressure at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Meet Hannah, an 8-Year-Old Collie, Who is Lowering Blood Pressure at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System

Danville, Illinois - She doesn't wear a white coat, offer medical advice or dispense medicine.

But each time Hannah makes her rounds at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System, she showers patients — and staff — with loads of affection, lowering their blood pressure and lifting their spirits in the process.

Hannah, a nearly 8-year-old Collie, is a certified pet therapy dog, and Marilyn Campbell of Georgetown is her owner and handler.

While Hannah usually draws most of the attention at the Veterans Hospital in Danville, it's Campbell who is being recognized by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund this month for her volunteer work with her four-legged friend and other therapy dogs.

In the last 20 years, the Vermilion County Conservation District retiree has certified more than 200 dogs for therapy service. And once a week for the last 18 months or so, she and Hannah have been visiting the veteran patients.

"Ms. Campbell is a wonderful example of an IMRF retiree who, through service, is making a difference in the community," said Louis W. Kosiba, the organization's executive director. "Her story is an inspiration to others to volunteer their time to help others."

Campbell and six others from across the state were nominated for IMRF's "Year of the Volunteer" contest, spotlighting volunteerism within the organization's membership. They will be honored in December.

At that time, the organization will select one of them as its Volunteer of the Year. The recipient will receive $1,000 to donate to his or her preferred service organization.

Nine collies and counting

A Terre Haute, Ind., native, Campbell moved to Vermilion County to teach science at Danville Junior College, now Danville Area Community College. She taught there four years and chaired the science department during the last two.

Then she left to direct the conservation district's educational programming, which included its year-round outdoor school program for elementary school students, summer day camp program, teacher training sessions and adult classes in nature and ecology, among other things. She also edited the district's newsletter and wrote a column for other publications.

After 25 years with the conservation district, Campbell took over as the executive director of the Illinois Audubon Society and served for 12 years. Although she retired in 2007, she continued to edit its magazine for several years on a volunteer basis.

Campbell has had nine collies over the years. When she worked for the conservation district, she put one of them in obedience school and later got involved in a local obedience club.

After taking her dogs to visit residents in a nursing home, she learned about Therapy Dogs International, which certifies dogs for work.

"Because of my background with the obedience club, TDI allowed me to register my dog, and we began visiting nursing homes," said Campbell, who also became an evaluator and has certified more than 200 dogs primarily from central Illinois and Indiana for work.

"Basically, I conduct a test to show that the dog has the temperament and obedience to work with people and other dogs," explained Campbell, who must recertify as an evaluator and as a handler every year. "They have to be able to follow commands and show they have good behavior. There are certain parts of the test they must pass, or it's an automatic failure — if they jump up on someone or if they don't stay when they're told to stay or if they are overly nervous when their owner is out of sight. Of course, if dogs show any sign of aggression, I won't go any further with the test, but I've never had that happen."

'How does she know?'

While Campbell enjoys evaluating dogs, she especially enjoys providing pet therapy because it gives her a chance to work with her dog and other people. In addition to visiting nursing homes, she has volunteered for the Danville Public Library's Read with a Dog program, Head Start and Camp Healing Heart, which Carle puts on at the University of Illinois 4-H Camp at Allerton Park each September.

Campbell knew that Hannah, whom she adopted from the Indiana Collie Rescue, was cut out for the job when she took her to the special camp for children who have lost a loved one. They were assigned to sit in on a grief session for older boys and girls.

Campbell said one boy, who had recently lost his father, started to talk.

"He got about two sentences out, and he started crying," she said, recalling how other kids immediately gathered around to comfort him. Then she saw Hannah push her way into the huddle.

"She got to the boy and started kissing him on the cheek," Campbell said. "The counselors just looked at me like, 'How does she know?' They just know. They just have that empathy for people, and they want to make them feel better. And if they get a hug, it makes them feel better, too."

Campbell started going to the Veterans Hospital through one of her friends, Chris Lucas. Lucas and her therapy dog volunteered there, but could only go once a month because of their work with hospice patients.

"She encouraged me to go because I had more time," said Campbell, who started volunteering in the summer of 2014. "A lot of the veterans are lonely. They don't get very many visitors. I thought if we could bring them a little joy, it was a worthwhile thing to do. I enjoy it, and Hannah enjoys it."

'Be sure to come back'

Recently, Campbell and Hannah — sporting her red Therapy Dogs International bandana around her neck — made their weekly rounds in all of the hospital's in-patient wards. On other days, they also visit the two independent living centers.

"It's my favorite dog," veteran Tina Foote cried when the duo peeked into her room. She threw her arms open, which was Hannah's cue to jump up on Foote's bed and nuzzle her face. "You can come see me any time."

As Foote cuddled with the dog, Campbell complimented her on how nice her hair looks. Foote, who underwent chemotherapy, lost her hair, and Campbell is happy to see that it has grown back and that Foote is feeling better.

"It's very relaxing. She reminds me of having my dogs with me," said Marine Corps veteran Tim Trimble, who talked about his three dogs who were waiting for him at his home in Rantoul.

As Campbell and Hannah continued to make their way through the Alzheimer's and dementia, acute psychiatric and palliative care wards, patients and staff would stop what they were doing, pet the collie or scratch her ears and smile. Each time, Campbell waited patiently, not wanting to rush anyone.

"As soon as they come on the ward, they just light up — even the ones who are not very communicative," said recreation therapist Casey Haugen, who escorted them through the hospital. She said they look forward to seeing Hannah, and also Campbell. "She's so dedicated. She's been coming here so long, she knows most of them by name."

Campbell said she plans to continue visiting the veterans as long as she and Hannah can.

"Some of these people will say, 'Be sure to come back.' They appreciate us taking the time to visit with them, and I enjoy bringing others pleasure and brightening their day."


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