Bon Secours volunteer, therapy dog

Meet Lillian: A Furry Volunteer with a Heart of Gold

Jun 10 2024

At Bon Secours, we are so grateful for our dedicated volunteers who generously donate their time and compassion each day to enhance the well-being of our communities. Among these exceptional individuals, we are proud to introduce you to Lillian, a volunteer with a slightly different “paw” in the game but whose presence and warmth have left a lasting impression on our staff and patients.

As you may have guessed, Lillian is a little different than our other volunteers, and it’s not just her beautiful, shiny locks. Lillian is a loving goldendoodle whose parents are our own Bon Secours – Richmond President Bryan Lee and his wife, Laura. While she is different from the typical volunteer, she is not alone; there are more than 50,000 therapy dogs in the U.S. and they must undergo extensive temperance testing and rigorous training before ever stepping paw into a hospital setting.

The decision to involve Lillian in therapy work was deeply personal and inspired by Bryan and Laura’s children while they interacted with a babysitter’s therapy dog.

“Seeing the calming and comforting effect this particular dog had on our own children, we knew with the proper training and accreditation, Lillian could also have that same soothing impact at the hospital,” Laura recalled.

This realization and dedication have not only enriched their own lives but have also brought immeasurable joy to the hospital community!

Lillian and her family moved to Richmond in 2021 and Laura began volunteering for Richmond Community Hospital in 2022, right after Lillian got her certification. In January of 2024, Lillian and Laura transitioned to St. Mary’s Hospital to focus on pediatric patients, although the duo happily visits any department. Since then, Lillian has quickly moved up the most requested volunteer list, with many patients asking to spend time with her daily.

Lillian’s role at St. Mary’s involves greeting patients and staff and simply bringing warmth and comfort with her presence. Despite being too large for patient beds, Lillian’s height allows her to connect with patients by offering affection and companionship, particularly with our pediatric patients.

“Seeing patients relax, smile and engage with Lillian means everything. We love seeing her positive impact on them, their families and even the staff. She really offers a brief respite from some of the anxiety that can be associated with a hospital environment,” Laura says.

The positive influence therapy dogs like Lillian can have on patient healing and recovery has been encouraging and aligns with studies showcasing the benefits of animal companionship in health care settings. Research shows that the simple presence of a therapy animal takes a person’s mind off their worries, lowering stress levels, which is better for recovery. Patients who breathe slower can relax. These benefits improve cardiovascular health, even for patients with advanced heart failure.

Looking ahead, the hope is to continue Lillian’s volunteer work at St. Mary’s and brighten the days of staff and patients whenever possible.

“Lillian loves her working days and the hospital, and I think she gets as much out of it as the patients and staff sometimes do,” Laura says. “I believe she knows she has a job to do, but getting the extra pets, belly rubs and ear scratches are the perks of the job that she unabashedly enjoys!”

Learn about the volunteer opportunities we have at Bon Secours.

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