Pet Therapy Program takes off at Ridgeview

Pet Therapy Program takes off at Ridgeview

“Mom, there’s a dog here to see you,” said an elderly woman’s son to his unresponsive mother, who was near the end of her life. The son took his mom’s fragile hand and placed it on top of Gracie Mae’s beautiful golden head. Magically, his mom’s eyes opened and she tried to talk and pet Gracie, the golden retriever. It was such a beautiful moment in time—one that Robyn Helland, a pet therapy volunteer, will never forget.

Helland is a Ridgeview Medical Center volunteer and one of seven Ridgeview pet handlers who, along with Gracie Mae, her four and a half year-old beloved golden retriever, trained for 10 weeks through Pet Partners, a national program on pet therapy. She now visits Ridgeview patients with Gracie Mae, who brightens the days of not only the patients, but also staff and visitors. Helland is a passionate believer in the Pet Therapy Program. “There are physiological reactions and many healing properties for patients,” says Helland. Quoting an article by Steve Dale:

When we feel good, we are more likely to smile. Studies show that when petting  a dog, a hormone called oxytocin kicks into high gear. Oxytocin, which is  sometimes dubbed as the “cuddling hormone,” helps reduce blood pressure and  decreases levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress and anxiety.*

It’s apparent the impact Gracie has on people as Robyn leads her through the hallways and patient rooms at Ridgeview. Many of the staff know Gracie by name.

When Helland says ‘Gracie, we’re going to work’ and holds out her therapy vest, Gracie knows that it’s time to go to work. She trots comfortably down the halls of Ridgeview, eager to befriend her next patient.

Mortenson Construction Makes a Difference: The Pet Therapy Program

In 2011, M.A. Mortenson Company memorialized Ann Mortenson and her close relationship to Ridgeview Medical Center with a generous grant of $25,000 to fund the Pet Therapy Program at Ridgeview Medical Center. Ridgeview was fortunate to know Ann as a valued employee and a loyal volunteer.

Ridgeview’s Pet Therapy Program offers its patients the opportunity to heal through companion animals. The intent of the Pet Therapy program is to offer care delivery options that create a more personal touch at a time that healthcare has introduced so much technology.

In the years after the initial expansion and formalization, the fund will provide ongoing operating support to the Pet Therapy Program.


The [national] pet therapy program was established by Ann Mortenson in 2000. All therapy dogs are certified through a partnership with Pet Partners (formerly Therapy Dogs International and/or Delta Society). Pet handlers go through Ridgeview’s extensive volunteer training as well.

Ridgeview Medical Center