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Pet therapy returns to Cookeville Regional

The data speaks for itself: the presence of animals relieve blood pressure, heart rate and stress.

The pet therapy program at Cookeville Regional Medical Center began in 2006. It was the vision of MaryDell Summers and her late dog, Button.

But when COVID hit, the program was paused. A lot of dogs and their handlers moved on or retired.

One of those is Charlene Gregory. She and her dog, Hershey, retired with more than 500 visits.

“It’s magical to see a patient’s face light up when Buddy walks into a patient’s room,” said Sarah Watts, Cookeville Regional Medical Center volunteer auxiliary member and Buddy’s handler.

Buddy is a 7 year old English Springer Spaniel. He was certified as a therapy dog in 2016 and recently earned the American Kennel Club medal for 200 visits.

“When COVID hit, we improvised and did drive-bys and window visits at nursing homes and assisted living facilities since we could not come into the hospital,” Watts said.

He is also the mascot of the Upper Cumberland Alzheimer’s Association.

Skye is a 3 year old collie who is relatively new to the pet therapy field. Her handler, Rebecca Decker, is excited to bring Skye to the program.

“She’s such a joy,” Decker said. “Patients absolutely love seeing her.”

The program is getting back on its feet and needs more people – and dogs — to join.

“The handler has to be a volunteer for us,” said Cyndi Maxwell, volunteer services coordinator. “They also have to get the dog certified before joining the program.”

Thunderhawk Canine will be hosting a free informational meeting about certification and temperament requirements and other things regarding therapy dogs on Saturday, Feb. 18, at 11 a.m.

Thunderhawk Canine is at 3910 Cookeville Hwy. (Hwy. 111), Cookeville, TN 38506. No registration is required to attend.

The dog has to be at least a year old and have good temperament. Recertification is every year and the Cookeville Regional Charitable Foundation will pay for that recertification and vaccinations.

“Any type of dog would make a good therapy dog,” Decker said. “It really depends on their personality.”

There are also opportunities for Pet Therapy Buddies to join the program. This program is for those who want to be involved in the volunteer group, but accompany the handler and their dog as they visit patients and make rounds.

To find out more about joining the auxiliary program at Cookeville Regional, call Maxwell at 931-783-2740 or email her at