Star is not just any dog - she is a part of our Pet Therapy Program. Star lives on the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center campus as a Residential Companion Pet in Heroes Haven. Star was brought to the Tuscaloosa VA through the Pet Therapy Program to help make our community living centers seem more like home. Before the program was put into action, the residents were asked to vote on what kind of pet they preferred - our residents wanted a dog.
Star, a German Shepherd and Golden Retriever mixed-breed, was adopted at the age of six months by the Tuscaloosa VA in May 2009. After extensive training by trainer Kim Romaine, Star was accepted as the TVAMC's residential companion pet. Romaine, a certified dog trainer and veterinary technician, trained and prepared Star until she had adjusted to life on the unit. Star's preparation consisted of basic obedience and socialization training. Star's training is certified by the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen. This certification is a 10-step process that tests how Star interacts with our residents and members of the community.
Star visited the Tuscaloosa VA once a month while she was in training so that the staff and the patients could become accustomed to her. When everyone on the unit became comfortable with Star, she began to visit and interact with the patients at least once a week. Star moved onto the unit permanently June 21.
The residents interact with Star and treat her just like she is their own dog. Having Star on the unit makes life more comfortable for the residents, especially if they owned a pet before living at the Tuscaloosa VA. Star helps the residents feel happy by relieving their anxiety and stress.
While the residents are eating, Star takes breaks in her kennel to rest. Staff members volunteer taking care of feeding, bathing and walking her. A whiteboard near the nurse's station helps the staff keep up with these duties.
Recreational Therapist Ashley Gatewood believes Star is a local celebrity around the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center.
"Everyone is in high spirits when Star is around," said Gatewood. "The residents truly cherish her companionship, and so do the staff members."
Gatewood helped initiate the program and attended the obedience classes with Romaine and Star. On Thursday nights, Star goes to the park for play dates with other canine friends she made while living with Romaine.
Since Star has just begun living on the unit, it is too early to tell how much of an impact she will make in the lives of the residents. One thing's for sure - they do enjoy her being there.