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From rescue dog to therapy dog: Once a stray, a dog now visits hospitals helping patients

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

SHE’S A BONAFIDE CELEBRITY, GREETED WITH SMILES AND SCRATCHES. YOU’RE SWEET. REPORTER LISA FINK SAVED PETUNIA A THREE YEAR OLD AMERICAN BULLY MIX FROM THE STREETS IN 2023. I BET YOU YOU DO. YEAH, WE WE JUST LEARNED THAT TRICK. NOW, A YEAR LATER, THIS RESCUE DOG IS A CERTIFIED THERAPY DOG MEETING WITH PATIENTS UNDERGOING TREATMENT FOR EATING DISORDERS AT ROGERS BEHAVIORAL HEALTH. WHEN YOU PAT A DOG, UM, THE STRESS SEEMS TO MELT AWAY WHEN YOU TOUCH THEM. RIGHT NOW, PETUNIA GOES TO THREE PLACES, VISITING WITH RESIDENTS OF NURSING HOMES. PEOPLE WHO ARE HERE AT ROGERS BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CENTER AS WELL AS HOSPICE PATIENTS. THERE IS JUST SOMETHING ABOUT THE UNDERSTANDING AND UNCONDITIONAL LOVE OF AN ANIMAL WHO IS THERE JUST TO BRING YOU JOY AND COMFORT. AND IT’S SO NEEDED BY SO MANY PEOPLE, BOTH INSIDE AND OUTSIDE OF THE HOSPITAL. PETUNIAS GO TO MOVE IS THE LEAN, WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE. SHE DOES. THIS. SHE’S A LEANER, UM. SHE’LL FALL ASLEEP IN YOUR LAP. SHE DOES SNORE WHEN YOU EXPERIENCE PETUNIAS GENTLE DISPOSITION, IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE SHE WAS EVER ABANDONED. BUT LIKE THE PATIENTS SHE VISITS, EVERYONE HAS A STORY. AND SOMETIMES THEY JUST NEED A SECOND CHANCE. THIS WAY TO. IN OCONOMOWOC MALLORY ANDERSON WISN 12 NEWS ARLENE IS A GREAT MOVE. ROGERS BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CURRENTLY HAS 13 DOGS AND HANDLERS THAT SEE PATIENTS, BUT THEY’RE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR MORE. WE HAVE A LI

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From rescue dog to therapy dog: Once a stray, a dog now visits hospitals helping patients

A dog, once a stray on the streets of Texas, is now changing lives as a therapy dog that visits southeast Wisconsin hospitals

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Updated: 5:49 PM PDT May 20, 2024

A dog, once a stray on the streets of Texas, is now changing lives as a therapy dog that visits southeast Wisconsin hospitals.Petunia is a bona fide celebrity — greeted with smiles, scratches, and cheers everywhere she goes. The 3-year-old American Bully mix routinely stops by hospitals and nursing homes, meeting with patients undergoing treatment and in hospice. Lisa Finke adopted Petunia in March of 2023. At that time, she was found as a stray in Texas. “She got off the van and melted into me, and I thought: ‘This will be my therapy dog,'” said Finke.In just one short year, Petunia has blossomed into a therapy dog, getting certified by both the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and First Responders Therapy Dogs. Her calm, patient, and affectionate disposition helped her get certified rather quickly.”When you pet a dog, the stress seems to melt away when you touch them,” said Finke.Now, Petunia routinely visits three hospitals with Finke, including Rogers Behavioral Health Center in Oconomowoc, which is around 35 miles from Milwaukee. At Rogers, Petunia cuddles with children and teens undergoing treatment for eating disorders. “Therapy dogs have reached out to our residents and patients in ways that our human counterparts just can’t,” said Jenifer Waite Wollenburg, operations manager for the Residential Eating Disorder Program at Rogers. “There is just something about the understanding and unconditional love of an animal who is there just to bring you joy and comfort. It’s so needed by so many people, both inside and outside of the hospital. We’re incredibly grateful for our canine comfort teams. They do such wonderful work and they’re deeply appreciated.”Petunia’s go-to therapy move is “the lean,” which is exactly what it sounds like. She leans into people, ready for scratches, and will often fall asleep on their lap. “I actually got a letter from a patient here at Rogers, thanking me for bringing her, and that it made their time a little less stressful,” Finke said. “I feel like Petunia had a very special bond with this person, so it was really nice to get that letter.”When people meet Petunia and experience all the love she has to give, it’s hard to believe she was ever abandoned. But like the patients she visits, everyone has a story — and sometimes they just need a second chance.”There’s just so many dogs out there that need homes, and shelters are overflowing,” said Finke. “There are great, great dogs out there. Petunia is an example of that. So, give it a shot.”Rogers Behavioral Health currently has 13 dogs and handlers that visit with patients, but they are always looking for more volunteers. For more information, click here.

A dog, once a stray on the streets of Texas, is now changing lives as a therapy dog that visits southeast Wisconsin hospitals.

Petunia is a bona fide celebrity — greeted with smiles, scratches, and cheers everywhere she goes. The 3-year-old American Bully mix routinely stops by hospitals and nursing homes, meeting with patients undergoing treatment and in hospice.

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Lisa Finke adopted Petunia in March of 2023. At that time, she was found as a stray in Texas.

“She got off the van and melted into me, and I thought: ‘This will be my therapy dog,'” said Finke.

In just one short year, Petunia has blossomed into a therapy dog, getting certified by both the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and First Responders Therapy Dogs. Her calm, patient, and affectionate disposition helped her get certified rather quickly.

“When you pet a dog, the stress seems to melt away when you touch them,” said Finke.

Now, Petunia routinely visits three hospitals with Finke, including Rogers Behavioral Health Center in Oconomowoc, which is around 35 miles from Milwaukee.

At Rogers, Petunia cuddles with children and teens undergoing treatment for eating disorders.

“Therapy dogs have reached out to our residents and patients in ways that our human counterparts just can’t,” said Jenifer Waite Wollenburg, operations manager for the Residential Eating Disorder Program at Rogers. “There is just something about the understanding and unconditional love of an animal who is there just to bring you joy and comfort. It’s so needed by so many people, both inside and outside of the hospital. We’re incredibly grateful for our canine comfort teams. They do such wonderful work and they’re deeply appreciated.”

Petunia’s go-to therapy move is “the lean,” which is exactly what it sounds like. She leans into people, ready for scratches, and will often fall asleep on their lap.

“I actually got a letter from a patient here at Rogers, thanking me for bringing her, and that it made their time a little less stressful,” Finke said. “I feel like Petunia had a very special bond with this person, so it was really nice to get that letter.”

When people meet Petunia and experience all the love she has to give, it’s hard to believe she was ever abandoned. But like the patients she visits, everyone has a story — and sometimes they just need a second chance.

“There’s just so many dogs out there that need homes, and shelters are overflowing,” said Finke. “There are great, great dogs out there. Petunia is an example of that. So, give it a shot.”

Rogers Behavioral Health currently has 13 dogs and handlers that visit with patients, but they are always looking for more volunteers. For more information, click here.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.