Large paws serve a great cause

May 1, 2018  //  FOUND IN: News,

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When you think of therapy dogs, Finnegan is probably not what you have in mind.

In fact, he’s not often what anyone has in mind when picturing dogs at all — as onlookers affectionately refer to him as a “bear” or a “beast” when they catch a quick glimpse.

No matter what, though, the 125-pound Bernese Mountain Dog — and certified therapy dog — is certain to put a smile on the faces of patients, families and employees at Michigan Medicine.

A gentle giant

“Finnegan immediately lights up a room,” said Quinta Vreede, Finnegan’s owner, chief administrative officer at Michigan Medicine and chief of staff for Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs Marschall Runge, M.D., Ph.D. “For patients and family members who are anxious during a hospital stay or for staff members who need to stay strong carrying out what can be stressful work, he’s the perfect companion.”

That’s why Vreede, Finnegan and his large paws make the rounds on 5B at University Hospital every other Friday. They walk the hallways, go into the patient rooms of those who want to see him and spend time in the team rooms. The entire time, Finnegan maintains a calm demeanor — sometimes even lying down for a snooze or an all-important belly-rub that staff members are all too happy to provide.

But Finnegan’s day begins long before he even gets to 5B, as he makes dozens of new friends while walking over from the administrative offices in Med Sci Building I.

“We’ll walk over to UH from our offices around lunchtime on the days he visits, and it could take us 30-45 minutes just to make our way to the check-in station in Taubman Center,” Vreede said. “Everyone just wants to spend a minute with Finnegan, pet him and take pictures with him.”

Indeed, on a recent visit, a family with four children spent nearly 10 minutes playing with Finnegan and snapping photos.

“He reminds the kids of home and our big dogs,” said Barbara Eilf, the children’s mother. “It’s just a delight to see how happy he’s making them!”

A huge, furry impact

Vreede has long known that she wanted Finnegan to become a therapy dog.

“When we first got him, we took a trip to Lake Michigan and there was a young adult on the beach who had autism,” Vreede said. “I asked her father if it would be ok for Finnegan to go over to her, and before long, the two were digging in the sand together. At the end of the visit, she gave Finnegan a hug — and then gave me a hug, which her father said was the first contact she had made with someone other than her family members in years. It was beautiful to see the impact that Finnegan could have.”

From that point on, Finnegan and Vreede focused on completing a rigorous certification process through Therapaws of Michigan, Inc., a therapy program dedicated to promoting the human-animal bond.

He had to undergo basic obedience training, prove that he could interact calmly with other dogs and not react to loud noises, individuals wearing hats and other types of tests.

Once certified, Vreede connected with Volunteer Services to officially make Finnegan a part — make that a large part — of Michigan Medicine.

“While Finnegan is unique, he’s the perfect dog for this hospital — he’s calm, he’s tall enough that he’s easy for patients to reach and he loves attention,” Vreede said. “Personally, I couldn’t imagine being in a hospital without the comfort and care that a dog provides. I’m just glad I get to share Finnegan and provide that sense of calm to others.”

Having a ruff day? Click through the photo gallery above to see Finnegan interacting with patients, faculty and staff at Michigan Medicine!