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Paws for Smiles is an organization dedicated to bringing smiles to nursing homes, hospices, hospitals and schools in South Florida through registered pet therapy dogs.
The organization assists in the pet therapy certification process, and connects 'pet therapy teams' with locations where they are needed.
Paws for Smiles, Inc.
1107 NW 90 Avenue
Plantation, FL 33322
Lady and Mary Cope
Mary Cope, who works as a dedicated volunteer at Memorial Hospital West, Memorial Hospital Miramar and Memorial Manor Nursing Facility in Pembroke Pines, Florida, admits it's her partner who often steals the show.
It's easy to see why with one look at Lady, the canine component of this pet therapy duo. "She's the part of this team that makes it work," Cope says.
The half Lab, half mystery, was more tramp than lady when she entered Cope's life seven years ago. Cope and her husband were doing some yard work when the mangy stray wandered up their driveway. She had no collar or dog tags, bare patches in her coat and a twisted front foot that looked badly broken. It was clear she'd been abused.
"I fed and watered her,"Cope says. "You could tell she had been on her own for a while. I took her to our vet and he said to me, ‘Looks like you have another baby to love.'”
Her sweet disposition at the vet prompted a woman in the office to suggest Lady as a candidate for pet therapy. Cope agreed and contacted Therapy Dogs Inc., an organization that trains and certifies dogs for pet therapy, and signed Lady up for training right away.
During their first pet therapy test, however, Cope became ill and fainted, landing her in the hospital for eight days. This ironic detour allowed Cope to see the hospital experience from an insider's perspective and cemented the commitment she would then have for reaching out and brightening another patient's day.
"The time I spent there was enough to let me know that I wanted to explore pet therapy a lot more,"Cope says. "My eight days in there were extremely painful, but the staff was fantastic. I was told that not only patients enjoy the pet therapy visits, but the nurses, doctors, and all the rest of the staff do as well.”
Since then, Cope and Lady have spent the last year and a half volunteering three times a week at two different hospitals and a nursing home, all through the generous help and support of Paws for Smiles, a program that matches ‘therapy teams' with hospitals and other sites.
Lady's personality makes her a natural, as her rough past has had the opposite effect on her. Though neglected and abused -- or perhaps because of the abuse -- she is always eager to please and make others happy.
Patients' faces light up upon Lady's entrance and many workers even bring her treats from home. In return, Lady provides constant, unconditional love.
"It doesn't matter who they are, or where they're from, to her they're all the same," Cope explains. "And in a hospital setting we've come to see that she loves them all.”
Recalling an unforgettable experience with 102-year-old dog lover, Cope says, "The woman had a huge grin on her face. She said to me, ‘Oh my gosh, I've seen this on TV lots of times and it's never happened to me before. I love it, thank you so much!'”
When the very frail woman asked for a kiss from Lady, Cope carefully put Lady's front paws on the bed and the dog gently granted her wish.
Cope says that the expressions on patients' faces when they meet her four-legged friend are priceless. Seeing people in pain have that weight lifted even for a moment makes her day, as well as Lady's.
"No matter how much she may have been abused in the past, all she wants to do is to give lots of love and kisses,"Cope says. "Whoever had her before I did sure didn't realize what a love she really is. Their loss is surely my gain. She really is a Lady.”