Foundation Starts Paws for Love

Tammara L. Card-Hodges, left, Director of Imaging Services/Service Dog Handler, and Artimus, UPMC Chautauqua’s Certified Animal pay a visit with Jiliane Bouckhuyt, PACS administrator, during their rounds in the Radiology Department of the UPMC Chautauqua. The Paws for Love Fund has been created at WCA Foundation to endow the Certified Animal Program at the hospital.

Artimus, the Patriotic Healer, Supported by Anonymous Donor

Pet photos will be the focus of employees of UPMC Chautauqua during July’s Patriotic Pet photo contest at the hospital. The label Patriotic Healer could be attached to a photo of Artimus by his handler Tammara L. Card-Hodges, the hospital’s Director of Imaging Services/Service Dog “Artimus” Handler. Commonly known as Artie by the many patients visited daily by this amazing animal and the staff, he brings joy to everyday. As a Certified Service Animal hosted by UPMC Chautauqua, Artie encourages wellness in patients and staff though his work at the hospital. He was a rescue dog and now rescues others from their fears, anxiety and loneliness through love.

An anonymous donor of WCA Foundation, which supports the healthcare initiatives of UPMC Chautauqua, was moved by the work of Artimus. When she heard his stories, she fully understood the bond shared between people and animals that encourages wellness and healing. Soon after the Paws for Love Fund was created by this magnanimous donor to support Artimus and the Therapy/Service Program of the hospital.

“Animals have always been a part of my life,” explained the Paws for Love Fund initiator.

“The work that Artimus does is an example of what the unconditional love of an animal can do for people.

“I am impressed with the work Artimus and his handler Tammara do at the hospital. My efforts are to perpetuate his kind of love and comfort given to patients and staff by creating the fund,” Artimus’ benefactor said. “Together we can make a difference using rescue animals to serve the hospital.”

“We are so grateful to this special donor who is helping support this vital animal therapy program at UPMC Chautauqua,” said Brigetta Overcash, Executive Director of WCA Foundation. “While she lives hundreds of miles away, supporting the hospital that cared for her as a child is important to her. Hearing about the work of Artimus and the pet therapy program resonated with her because of her love for animals and it followed the path of her personal volunteer work.

“Anyone who has the desire to support this fund certainly can,” Overcash said. “It’s a fitting way to say, ‘Thank You,’ for the love and support Artie gives everyone at the hospital – patients and staff alike.”

In addition to supporting the work of Artimus as a therapeutic service dog, the Paws for Love Fund will support the use of the Certified Service Animal at UPMC Chautauqua for contraband and command performance. Artimus and Hodges have arduously trained together for both parts of their work at the hospital.

The Artimus and Tammara Story

“The hospital submitted a grant application for a service animal to OASIS – Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards,” Hodges said. “OASIS awarded the grant for the Residential Threatment Program of UPMC Chautauqua. The canine was to be trained in obedience, therapy and contraband. We all envisioned the positive impact a service animal would have on our patient community.

“Initially, Artimus started his journey with a different handler, but from the very first moment we met, Artimus and I had a connection,” she explained. “Each time I would see him, I would get this nagging feeling that he was meant to be in my life. After the writer of the grant informed me that there was a need to appoint a new handler, I requested to take on this role.

“Steve Philips, owner of Phillips Command Dogs, engaged me immediately as a new handler alleviating the anxiety created by the demands of my new role. Artimus excelled in obedience, therapy, and narcotics detection due to Steve’s training experience, overall knowledge of the best practices, the time commitment provided to hard wiring behaviors, and the impressive dedication to his craft. Steve and his team provided as much support to Artimus and me as we needed to ensure that he was ready for the professional and clinical environment of a hospital,” she continued.

Best known staff member

“Today Artimus is the most well-known staff member at UPMC Chautauqua,” Ms. Hodges admitted. “He has his own name badge, reports to work Monday through Friday and is commonly requested by patients, staff and providers. He has served as emotional support to the very sick, the troubled, the injured and to those who just need some additional comfort for the day. As a bonus, his gentle and caring personality serves as a magnet for children and the elderly eliciting ear to ear smiles.”

According to Hodges, over the last several months, there are more connections between Artimus and patients and staff than can be recorded. A few special scenarios are remembered above and beyond the daily reactions to the effect of Artimus’ presence at UPMC Chautauqua.

Ms. Hodges tells her first story.

“Just a few weeks ago, Lisa, a Radiologic Technologist, asked if I could please come to the department with Artie,” said Hodges. “She informed me that we had a very young girl in the department waiting for testing who was in pain. I immediately responded by going to the dressing room where she was doubled over in what I thought looked like agony. As soon as Artimus rounded the corner, she jumped off her waiting bench and threw her arms around him. They hugged and he wagged his tail and licked her face. I gave her the time she needed to distract her from her pain and focus on the canine she was so grateful to bond with. The imaging team informed me later that this young lady made it successfully through her exam with a smile on her face.”

Hodges continued to explain what happened when she and Artimus were doing their rounds during Christmas time.

“When we exited the elevator on an inpatient floor, a man stopped and began to cry,” explained Ms. Hodges. “He looked up and said, ‘You have no idea what this means to me! I just lost my best friend (canine) a few months ago and I’ve been here for a few days. This is amazing. Can he come to my room?’ I took Artimus in to see him and Artimus jumped up on the bed and cuddled with him for a few minutes. Part of his therapy training is to lean into a person when they are experiencing pain, anxiety, sadness, stress, or panic. The leaning helps to distract the person from their emotions to help them begin their road to emotional and physical recovery. Artie worked his magic on this man.”

Without a pause, Hodges told of another patient who has been down on his luck.

“Life hasn’t exactly provided an easy pathway or reasons to be optimistic for this patient,” she said. “When Artie sees him, he gets so excited. He goes directly to him and jumps up, leans in and gives kisses. This man just beams with joy, and joy is not something he often gets to experience. When I witnessed this unconditional love from Artie to this man who needed his attention, I began to cry. His positive impact on the human spirit can be overwhelming.”

The impact of Artimus is voiced by the patients of UPMC Chautauqua as well.
“There is a woman who was admitted for a long stay,” relayed Hodges. “As soon as Artie met her, they immediately bonded. Whenever we went to her floor, he trotted directly to her room. They napped together, took walks and played with toys. When she was anticipating going home, she expressed to me that the hardest part of going home would be not seeing Artimus. She began to cry and said that it would be very difficult for her to be separated from his companionship. He has been a big part of her healing process.”

Artie’s healing is felt by many though out the hospital, including the leadership team whose meetings he attends. Physicians ask for him to come to their floors, nurses ask for him to visit as often as possible, staff buy him treats and look forward to his wagging tail and big welcoming eyes. Hodges says they tell her that Artie helps them get through their stressful days – especially in these COVID-19 ridden times, that he builds morale and provides a sense of well-being. It’s amazing what one canine’s impact has had on an entire hospital.

Community members who wish to support Arti and the Therapy/Service Program of the UPMC Chautauqua may send donations to The Paws for Love Fund, c/o WCA Foundation, P.O. 840, Jamestown, NY, 14702-0840; or donate on the Foundation’s website at www.wcafoundationjamestown.org. For more information about The Paws for Love Fund, contact WCA Foundation’s executive director, Brigetta Overcash, at 716-664-5461 or Overcashbe@upmc.edu, or its Director of Development, Megan Barone, at 716-664-8423 or Baronema3@upmc.edu.

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