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Vet Gazette

Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine eNewsletter

Hospital Volunteers Offer Sympathetic Ears

January 5th, 2015
Joan Ferguson gives a hospital patient an orange bandana.

Joan Ferguson gives a hospital patient an orange bandana.

Clients who visit the OSU Veterinary Hospital on Wednesdays get a special treat. Volunteers Joan and Terry Ferguson are on hand to greet them, make sure they have a parking pass, and provide other friendly assistance.

The Fergusons are former hospital clients who know how stressful it can be when your best friend has a serious illness or needs surgery. Their dog, Gunther, was an oncology patient at the hospital several years ago. “He was diagnosed with cancer,” says Joan. “We knew that if anything could be done to help him, this was the place to go.” Gunther had surgery and chemotherapy treatment at the hospital. “They were so great,” says Joan. “We really wanted to do something to help the hospital. We said we would even shovel bark,” she laughs.

It just so happened that their good friend, Joan Campf, had recently donated funds to hire patient advocate Tammy Barr. She suggested the Fergusons contact Tammy and ask her if she needed any help.

When Tammy met with the Fergusons, she liked them immediately. “They were perfect,” she says. “We are so lucky to have them.” The hospital directors agreed to a pilot program with the Fergusons working one day a week, visiting with clients in the small animal hospital lobby.

In addition to practical help, like tips on where to eat, and walking dogs who are getting cabin fever, the Fergusons provide a sympathetic ear and someone to help pass the time while the pets are in treatment. For those clients whose pets have serious health issues, it is important to be able to share their story. “We really enjoy visiting with people,” says Joan. “I just ask, ‘What are they in for?’ and that’s all it takes . . . they let it all out. Then they say, ‘Thank you so much for listening, it really helped.’”

While Joan Ferguson is a people-person who focuses on the owners, Terry is a dog lover who spends a lot of time just petting the animals. “You get to see lots of different dogs and breeds,” he says. “There was a big German Shepard, Jake, in here who was recovering from back surgery. He had been cooped up for 12 weeks, and was getting a little antsy, and man could he bark. While he was in the [exam] room for his checkup, a gal comes in with this little hound dog that has a citronella [anti-bark] collar. Jake comes out of the room and goes, ‘Woof, woof, woof’. The other dog didn’t make a sound but Jake triggered the collar. The owner apologized, but I thought it was funny and told her it was okay, it smelled good in here.”

The Fergusons are careful not to offer any medical information or advice. They know it’s important to let the doctors cover those topics. “We just listen,” says Terry.

Although they live in Cottage Grove, they don’t mind the two-hours of drive time every Wednesday. “We looked forward to it,” says Joan. “We plan our calendar around Wednesdays. When you love what you are doing, it is easy.”

“It surprises me that something this simple can really make a difference. Our reward is that it makes you feel like you are doing something good,” adds Terry.

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