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A Decade with Pet Partners

Mary Pecoul
Pet Partners Handler

Our story began in 2010.

Mary Pecoul and her shih tzu Dixie
Mary and her first therapy dog, Dixie

Animal-assisted therapy is something that I have wanted to do my whole life. It wasn’t until I adopted a little shih tzu named Dixie that I realized that I had a buddy to do it with and I could really make my dream come true.

One day I was watching TV and a segment came on about therapy animals and how they were looking for volunteers to be able to expand their services on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. I got in touch with Visiting Pet Teams of South Mississippi, a Pet Partners–affiliated group, and began the process to register as a therapy animal team.

After Dixie became a registered therapy dog, we eagerly began visiting at Garden Park Hospital. The hospital was glad to implement the therapy animal program at their facility. They saw the potential of the program and how it could be beneficial in the recovery of patients. We started visiting one day a week, then two, then three. Before we knew it, we were there for visits five days a week.

Gradually we increased our service to include other hospitals, hospice, nursing home, assisted living facilities, and memory care homes. Later we extended our service to the reading program at several libraries.

We had been members of Visiting Pet Teams of South Mississippi for about three years, when Dixie died suddenly of congestive heart failure. It was devastating for me, Garden Park Hospital, and all the facilities and people we touched along the way. The program was going great and the hospital loved it, and then all of a sudden it was over.

I felt in my heart that my time for therapy animal work was over since Dixie was gone. But the leader of our group told me that my service was not over because this was a God-given mission, and that I was an essential part of therapy animal work and our group.

Mary Pecoul with her therapy shih tzus Abby and Bella
Mary with Abby and Bella

Exactly one year after Dixie died, I received a call from a lady who knew I did therapy animal visits; she offered me a Shih Tzu named Bella. I told my husband that this was a sign from above and that my mission was to help and touch even more people in need. Bella and I began the process all over again.

Three days later, God blessed me with another sweet little shih tzu named Abby. As soon as Abby was a year old, we took and passed the evaluation. My dream was back on track. Now I had two therapy dogs and could deliver double the blessings. Since that time, we now go six days a week and sometimes seven.

There are hundreds of touching and heartwarming stories that I have had the pleasure of experiencing through my years of being a Pet Partner. It has taught me to be a better person and to have more love and compassion for others.

  • While we were visiting the hospital, an elderly patient came in; she had no family and was very distraught. The hospital administrator call me immediately and asked if l could help. We met with the patient, calmed her, and stayed with her through admissions and her pre-op. I told her that I would be there for her to the end of her procedure. In fact, we were allowed to stay with her in staging until the time they took her into surgery. When the patient left the hospital, she said we were her angels sent down from heaven to guide and protect her.
  • Another special visit was in a nursing home. There was a client who just laid in bed in a little world of her own. We came in and for at least 10 minutes we were able to bring her into our world. We talked for a while and were able to get her to say “Abby.” Then she told us that she loved us as we were leaving her room.
  • At another hospital, a nurse came to us and asked if we could help her. There was a patient who would not come out of the bathroom. She had been in there for about three hours. We went and just talked to her and tried to encourage her to come out. She said that she loved dogs, so I told her if she came out that I had a big surprise for her. After about a half hour, we were able to get her to come out.
  • We had been visiting a patient at the hospital for a few weeks when she had to be put into ICU. She had become non-responsive. Her husband asked for us. He told the doctors and nurses that if anyone could get her to respond it would be Abby. We were allowed to go into ICU with proper approval. After we visited a couple of times she began to respond. Her husband said that she started talking and hasn’t stopped since.

Since joining Pet Partners in 2010, I have accomplished many things through my visits with my dogs:

  • The Presidential Volunteer Service GOLD Award for the last nine years—this award is given in recognition and appreciation for a volunteer’s commitment to strengthen our nation and communities through volunteer service.
  • Volunteer of the Year for Visiting Pet Teams of South Mississippi.
  • Volunteer of the Year for Garden Park Hospital.
  • Volunteer of the Year for Harrison County, MS.
  • The John Caranda Public Service Award for Harrison County, MS, for serving over 21,000 hours volunteer service.
  • A feature on Mississippi Strong, a broadcast segment that features volunteers who have made an impact on the community through their service.

With over 8,000 hours dedicated to our therapy animal visits, we have no intention of slowing down. I am truly blessed to be given the opportunity to belong to such a wonderful organization, and be able to touch so many lives with love and compassion, as well as to comfort the elderly and the dying, making them feel that someone really cares about them, especially the ones that have no family.