Next time you stop into Wheeling Hospital for a checkup, you might be lucky enough to meet Dogtor Mocha, the hospital’s first emotional support animal. Mocha joined the team in February 2021, after her caregiver Cara Gazdik, Clinical Director of Nursing at Wheeling Hospital, realized the positive impact Mocha could have on patients and staff at the hospital.
Mocha was rescued from the Road Home Animal Project, a local organization dedicated to helping animals in need. Gazdik was fostering a litter of chocolate lab mix puppies for the rescue when she was inspired to explore the opportunity of having an emotional support dog to help comfort patients and staff during difficult times. It’s crucial that therapy dogs possess the right temperament when comforting patients. This includes being physically calm, nonreactive to noises, and comfortable around all types of people. Mocha’s calm temperment and friendliness made her the perfect candidate for the job.
Mocha has since received specialized training to help her understand basic obedience commands and to properly be able to respond to the emotional needs of humans At the hospital, she makes her rounds to different departments each day to visit patients. Gazdik cares for Mocha when she’s off-duty.
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While Mocha’s presence is new to Wheeling Hospital, therapy dogs are known to provide several physical and benefits to people. Physical benefits include lowering blood pressure and pain and improving cardiovascular health. Emotionally, therapy dogs can aid in reducing anxiety, loneliness and depression. At a time where visitation limitations are still in effect due to COVID-19, having Mocha on staff is helping patients feel less alone during isolated, and often stressful, hospital visits.
Mocha seems to be enjoying her new role at Wheeling Hospital and takes great pride in helping patients and staff through hard times.