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Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids brings back therapy dogs after a hiatus during the pandemic

CBS Minnesota logoCBS Minnesota 7/3/2022 Marielle Mohs

COON RAPIDS, Minn. -- A crucial member of the Allina Health Mercy Hospital staff in Coon Rapids was missing for the last two years.

Therapy dogs were eliminated from the hospital halls during the pandemic out of safety, but now, these furry, four-legged helpers are back.

Owner and handler Laurie MacKechnie was thrilled to bring her certified therapy dog, Ranger, back through the hospital hallways on Thursday afternoon.

She's been a volunteer at Mercy Hospital for over a decade. A visit from Ranger is just what David Hanawalt, a neuro patient, needed on this day.

"It just totally soothes you," Hanawalt said.

Ranger's visits always seem to come at the perfect time.

"I just lost my dog a week ago, right before my stroke, so this is good for me to see this," said another patient on the neuro floor, who did not disclose her name.

MacKechnie has been bringing Ranger to Mercy Hospital for eight years, and said Ranger took it hard when he had to hang up his handkerchief for the two years of the pandemic.

"The dogs were frantic, we wanted to love people,"  MacKechnie said.

MacKechnie says dogs have a gift to be able to sense deeply.

"I think that they can sense anxiety, certainly, sadness, fear for sure," MacKechnie said.

All of these abilities make them the perfect presence in the hospital.

"The dog comes in, they're smiling, and you can just see [the patient's] blood pressure go down," MacKechnie said.

Ranger isn't just there for patients, but he's also helping the helpers. The hospital staff love taking breaks to interact with Ranger.

Even MacKechnie herself benefits, by being able to witness all the joy her dog gives to others.

"I like to make the world a better place, and this is the best way I know how," MacKechnie said.

Ranger also visits senior living centers and schools. MacKechnie is getting ready to train two new puppies who will be the next generation of therapy dogs at Mercy Hospital.

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