Moments of Brightness When They Count the Most


Meet the members of Fauquier Health’s Pet Therapy team

By Norma Thatcher

Patient Blake Weaver enjoying a visit from Tess. As his nurse said, “His smile says it all.”

Nearing the age of ninety, the hospital patient had not only never owned a dog, but had never even petted a dog. That abruptly changed when Pet Therapy dog Tess, a Sheltie, visited at Fauquier Health. It was love at first sight as Tess nestled in on the patient’s bed, who didn’t want to let her go. “You all go on ahead and visit other people but leave the dog here!” the patient proclaimed with finality to Tess’s owner Lisa Fox.

For over 21 years the dogs (and more recently, the miniature horses) of the Pet Therapy program at Fauquier Health have been bringing joy to the patients at our local hospital. Some teams also visit patients at senior living facility The Villa of Suffield Meadows. 

The Pet Therapy program is amazingly rewarding for the patients, the volunteers, and the staff.

Handler: Lisa Fox
Pet Rep: Norma Thatcher

Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix
Handler: Kathryn Gilman

The popular program started out under the wing of the former Fauquier Hospital Auxiliary in March 2000, beginning in outpatient therapy/rehab with Colin Elliot as Director. Later, physical therapist Julie Maybach-Royal (with dogs Teddy and Tigger) and Molly Morgan (with pup Cordymay) began the program at the hospital. Julie served as Facilitator of Pet Therapy until 2004 when Sheryl Vollrath took over. Sheryl served until 2019 when MaryBeth Bradley assumed responsibility as Volunteer Coordinator. 

As of today, MaryBeth manages a roster of thirteen Pet Therapy volunteers, eight dogs, and one miniature horse. The program’s first miniature horse, Silver, retired in 2021 but Lola the mini joined in 2020 and remains to help the dogs on the team brighten patients’ days.

The pandemic forced the postponement of Pet Therapy visits in March of 2020, and the hospital’s patients missed out on seeing the four-legged ambassadors of joy. The visits have since resumed, although Fauquier Health carefully monitors the virus and makes safety decisions regarding visitors – pet and human – on a constantly evolving basis. “We hate to postpone the pet therapy visits because it’s such a successful program, but we monitor the situation closely for everyone’s safety,” says Sarah Cubbage, Marketing Director of Fauquier Health.  

Shih Tzu mix
Handler: Marcia Payne
Pet Rep: Joseph Payne

Airedale Terrier
Handler: Carolyn Strong
Pet Rep: Angela Guditus

The Pet Therapy visits are often made in teams. Each pet handler and pet may have a Pet Rep accompany them on patient visits. The Pet Rep “smooths the way” by making sure that a visit from the animal is desired and that the area is clear. Then the rep administers hand sanitizer and (if the dog is small enough), a covering is placed on the patient’s bed or lap. Each patient receives a “calling card” from the pet with their photo and brief bio. The hand sanitization protocol occurs again at the end. 

Patients aren’t the only ones who get a little TLC from the pets. Staff members also enjoy the respite from a busy, stressful day by stopping to pat or cuddle with the animals.

Former patient Sue Brittle was waiting to be released when one of the Pet Therapy dogs arrived on the scene. “I immediately felt my blood pressure go down when those beautiful brown eyes looked up at me,” she said. 

Beagle mix
Handler: Ellen Simon

Shih Tzu mix
Handler: Marcia Payne
Pet Rep: Joseph Payne

My own favorite story is of a patient who spent a long time in the ICU. Injuries kept the individual nearly immobilized the first time former Pet Therapy dog Rosie, a German Short-Haired Pointer, walked into the hospital room. The only  movement the patient could make was placing a hand on Rosie’s head. Simultaneously, huge tears spilled out of the patient’s eyes. 

Handler Carolyn Strong, with the program for 18 years, observed that Poppy (her current dog in the program) gets quite excited on Pet Therapy day. After visiting many patients, Poppy is exhausted and curls up to sleep for hours.

Team Rascal (husband and wife team Joe and Marcia Payne with Shih Tzu mix Rascal) have been on board four years. Marcia says, “We feel honored to be able to visit the patients, doctors, nurses, and staff. Rascal is rewarded with love and treats while we are rewarded with the smiles and opportunity to talk with many in need! It’s our immense pleasure and privilege to serve as volunteers.”

The comment most often heard from patients is, “This visit made my day!” 

Beagle/Jack Russell Terrier mix
Handler: Ellen McMinn

German Shepherd
Handler: Carla Morris

Handler: Valerie Amster
Pet Rep: Pam Brunger

Rhodesian Ridgeback
Handler: Jane Daley
Pet Rep: Pam Brunger

Want to help? 

Do you have a pet you think would be great at pet therapy?

The Pet Therapy program is always on the lookout for new volunteers! The program is growing, and more therapy teams are needed. “We’d love to have enough pets and teams to ensure a Pet Therapy visit happens every day of the week,” says MaryBeth.

Qualifications for animals/handlers:

  • Dogs and handlers must be certified/registered and current with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Therapy Dogs International, or Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program 
  • Horses must be registered and rated appropriately with Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program. 
  • Handlers must undergo a background check, health screening, and complete the Fauquier Health on-boarding process. 

Therapy animals must:

  • Like people and accept petting by strangers.
  • Adhere to the grooming requirements prior to each visit.
  • Be comfortable around other animals.
  • Be friendly and outgoing.
  • Be healthy and pass a veterinarian screening.
  • Be stable and housebroken. Horses must also be trailer trained.

For more information contact MaryBeth directly at or 540-316-2910 

About Staff/Contributed 574 Articles
Piedmont Lifestyles Publications welcome contributions from any and all members of the community. Email news and photos to or call us at (540) 349-2951.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.