AVON, Ohio (WJW) – One of the Cleveland Clinic’s signature volunteer programs needs more four-legged friends to help bring smiles to patients.

The Caring Canine program is a team of certified therapy dogs and volunteer handlers who visit patients in the hospital, reducing their anxiety while providing emotional support. But recently the team is down to less than half staff.

“Prior to the pandemic we had about 200 volunteers in our Caring Canine Program enterprise-wide, and right now we have less than 100,” Cleveland Clinic Director of Volunteer Services Alicia Pitre said. 

Caring Canine Volunteer Michael Falatach and his seven-year-old Great Pyrenees Macee are happy to help lift the spirits of as many patients as they can.

“Currently I have three Great Pyrenees and two of my girls do a lot of therapy visits and usually we’re out about four or five times a week,” Falatach said.

Great Pyrenees Macee and Tina Serrano

There are requirements to be a part of the program. Each dog must be certified as a therapy dog, and their temperament must be vetted by a volunteer coordinator to make sure they will work well with patients.

“I don’t like to play favorites, but I think our furry volunteers are some of my favorites here at our hospital,” Pitre said. “It’s such an important addition to our volunteer team.”

Falatach hopes others will take up an interest in making a difference as a volunteer.

“It’s nice to be able to see if you can relieve some pain from somebody for a day,” he said.

If you are interested in learning more about the program visit this link to Volunteer Services on the Cleveland Clinic’s website.