James “Buddy” McGhin and Buster, pet therapy volunteer, help to heal mind, body and spirits at the Southeast Georgia Health System Camden Campus and Senior Care Center-St. Marys

Sometimes a wagging tail is just what the doctor ordered. Just watch Buster, a chocolate lab, as he makes the rounds at the Southeast Georgia Health System Camden Campus. Or ask James “Buddy” McGhin, Buster’s owner, who says, “I remember walking into a patient’s room with Buster. Suddenly, this patient who wasn’t cooperating with nurses began smiling and following directions.”

McGhin adds, “When Buster comes into a room, the situation completely turns around. Children stop crying, adults are less nervous and staff are happy. It makes everyone’s day.”

Brightening the hospital halls is all in a day’s work for this dynamic duo, who volunteer in the Health System’s Pet Therapy program. Participants in this program visit patients at the Brunswick or Camden Campus and Senior Care Centers in Brunswick or St. Marys. The program is open to anyone with a well-behaved dog who is certified through Therapy Dogs International. Volunteers must complete an application, attend orientation and commit to 100 service hours annually.

For McGhin, it’s well worth the time. “I receive the bigger blessing. It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”

Kristin Doll, CAVS, the Health System’s director of Volunteer Services, echoes McGhin’s thoughts on the transformative power of pet therapy. “Our therapy dogs are a vital part of our volunteer team, benefiting patients, guests and team members. The program speaks to our commitment to making the patient experience the best it can be.”

Doll recalled the time a therapy dog was placed next to a patient in a coma. “The patient began moving their fingers to pet the dog!” Another time, a nurse was having a difficult day after a patient passed away. As she cuddled a therapy dog, Doll describes, “I could almost feel the sadness leaving her.”

Making the Rounds

Buster works his charm throughout the hospital. He circulates in the lobby, easing tension for people waiting to have a procedure. He’s particularly helpful to a regular patient, a young man in a wheelchair. “They look forward to seeing each other,” McGhin says.

As he makes his rounds, Buster distributes unconditional love to patients in pediatrics, maternity, cancer care, cardiac rehabilitation, the emergency room and other areas. Buster’s presence is especially poignant for Senior Care Center residents. For many, including an elderly man who can’t speak, “It’s the biggest event of the week. He just lights up when Buster arrives,” describes McGhin.

Furry Friends Needed

Buster and Buddy McGhin are great ambassadors, but more volunteers and therapy dogs are always needed, especially as dogs retire out of the program. The need is especially urgent at the Camden Campus and the Senior Care Center-St. Marys, where Buster is the only therapy dog.

To join these remarkable volunteers making a difference in our community, contact Doll at 912-466-3157 or kdoll@sghs.org or complete the online form at sghs.org/About-Us/Volunteer/Pet-Therapy.

To learn how to certify your dog, visit Therapy Dogs International at tdi-dog.org or call Ruth Barker, director of the local TDI chapter, at 912-634-8156 or ssibarker@yahoo.com.

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