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Tails Wagged, Lives Changed!

The pet therapists at St. Rose Dominican spread comfort, joy and kindness. Here are some of their stories.

dog and ownerCris Aguilar and Macy (beagle)
“I was inspired by Dr. Zack and his handlers, Rich and Cathy. I met them and knew right away that I wanted to help the way they have. Macy and I have been visiting patients for two years now, and we love it! People often ask if they can take Macy home. They are excited because they haven’t seen their pets for a while.”
     —Cris Aguilar  




dog and ownerAngela Berenes and Bailey (chocolate Labrador)
“Since I rescued Bailey from the Henderson Animal Shelter, I could tell that she was special. She responded to emotions with understanding and care, almost as if she could feel what you were going through and how to make you feel better. I also noticed that she knew exactly how to behave with young children—sitting down when they approach her, allowing them to pet her and get close to her, all while wagging her tail. I knew then that we had to become a therapy team so we could share love and hope together!”
     —Angela Berenes



Lori Cirella and Artie (Labrador) 
Lori and Artie began visiting patients at St. Rose in April. “Working at St. Rose is a welcome, lighthearted change for both of us. Artie has worked with severely handicapped children, in children’s reading programs, two hospice programs in Las Vegas, and now St Rose. One little girl on the pediatric floor was able to get out of bed and sit on the little shelf of her IV stand to pet and talk to Artie. It was so sweet to see her light up with him. She colored with him as well. He just sat there with her and listened to everything she was saying.”
     —Lori Cirella




dog and ownerBrenda DiVincenzo and Gavin (vizsla)
“One event that led to Gavin choosing this line of work was meeting a group of autistic children at the park one day. At the teacher’s request, he stood on a picnic table and allowed all of the children to pet him at once. His enthusiasm and ability to remain calm and loving under pressure led him to become a pet therapist. Several years later, he met a very special patient at the hospital. He bonded with her quickly and spent a full visit by her side. It turns out, she was the teacher of the class from the park! She started Gavin on a journey that led to him being able to help her when she needed him most.”
     —Brenda DiVincenzo



Beth Finicle and Roxy (Australian Shepard) 
“When we rescued Roxy in 2016 and saw how calm she was, I decided to put her through obedience and therapy classes. We began visiting patients in December 2018. Every time Roxy and I enter a patient’s room, their face lights up and they get a big smile, it is very heartwarming! Roxy has gone through some trick classes so we also entertain the patients with her tricks.”
     —Beth Finicle




Mark Juraschka and Peabody (greyhound/pit mix)
Mark and Peabody began visiting patients about a year and a half ago. “It’s always touching when a patient or family member thanks me or tells me we made their day. But one thing that has always stayed with me happened several years ago when we were working at a school for children. A young man took a particular liking to Peabody and was always happy and engaged during our visits. After several weeks, his therapist pulled me aside and told me that he only behaves that way when Peabody is around and is usually withdrawn. I would have never known but hearing that really illustrated how important these visits can be for others.”
      —Mark Juraschka



Tom and Maggie Kessman and Heidi (golden doodle) and Sadie (mini golden doodle)
Tom, Maggie, Heidi and Sadie began visiting patients about a year ago after Maggie received wonderful care upon being diagnosed with breast cancer. “One day, a woman was sitting alone outside of maternity very despondent, and as we walked off the elevator, Heidi made a beeline right to her, sat in front of her and put her paw on her lap. The poor woman was in tears and said Heidi must be her guardian angel. We spent a great deal of time with her until her family arrived. A few hours later, on our way out of the lobby, this wonderful woman claimed again that Heidi must be her guardian angel because all her prayers had been answered and her daughter and grandchild were going to be ok.”
     —Maggie Kessman



Kristine Robinson and Murdock/aka “Murray (golden retriever)
“I became involved with pet therapy programs back in California with my dog Wally. We did this for six years before he passed. Along came Murray, and when we came to Nevada, I wanted to continue therapy work with him at St. Rose because of the hospital’s history and mission. Murray and I are still new to St. Rose, but it’s so heartwarming to see people smile when we walk into the hospital. It’s not just the patients who want to see the dogs … the visitors are there to see someone they care for or are waiting for someone to come out of surgery … if we can just take their minds off of things for a few minutes, it’s worth it.”
     – Kristine Robinson



Cathy and Rich Roper and Zack and Sassy (golden retrievers)
“One day, after retiring six years ago, I was in a pet store shopping and stopped to watch dogs being trained to be therapy dogs. I knew right away that this is what I wanted to do in retirement. I came home and told my husband Rich, an Army veteran, about the classes, and he joined me in our new life journey with Zack on Veterans Day in 2015. We visited a very special young 7 year old boy who had been diagnosed with brain cancer. James fell in love with Zack, and from that day forward, we would visit him when he was in the hospital for chemo treatments. He would lay on Zack and take a nap, walk him around the floor introducing him to everyone we passed. I’m blessed to say that we have become friends of the family and like adopted grandparents to James.



Amy Schildknecht and son, James Kish, and Zeke
Read James and Dr. Zack’s story in Reach magazine. See how a special relationship between a sick boy and therapy dog led to a family mission of bringing comfort to others.