We can’t talk about Meriter Hospital and Dogs On Call without also talking about Lynn Malayter and her dog, Murphy, the pair who started the program at Meriter.
They were the first Delta Society Pet Partner team in the state of Wisconsin and were also the first team to walk in the door of Meriter as DOC volunteers. Watched by a rehabilitation director when Lynn and Murphy were visiting residents at a nursing home, they were asked if the two could visit a patient in physical therapy. At their first session, the patient took Murphy for a walk while holding a ‘dummy’ lead as Lynn held the ‘working’ leash. Usually the patient would only take a few steps and then not want to walk any more. But with Murphy, the patient was so involved in the dog that the walk progressed across a long room.
The therapists were delighted, and when Meriter heard about Lynn and Murphy the two were asked if they could make a presentation to the hospital. Of course they did, and after their demonstration, the hospital wanted the pair to start ‘tomorrow’! But it took five months of preparation before the Meriter program actually started in January of 1998.
Almost immediately after the program began, a 4-year-old cerebral palsy patient who had never walked was getting discouraged with her physical therapy program at Meriter. The therapist asked the parents what the patient liked and found out besides liking to shoot basketballs from her wheelchair, she also loved dogs. Enter Murphy, the yellow lab. Lynn asked the patient if she would give Murphy a biscuit. The physical therapist had placed the young girl in a pediatric walker and with Murphy a few feet away, the little girl took a deep breath and hurled one hip forward and took her very first step in an attempt to give Murphy the biscuit. When she had almost reached Murphy, the dog backed up. But the young patient took another deep breath and walked even farther toward Murphy and the dog kept backing up as the little girl struggled to walk toward Murphy. Suddenly the dog sat down and the now very tired little girl rewarded Murphy with the biscuit. “The dog just knew how far the patient could go,” said Lynn.
Without this pair and their inspiration to all of us, Dogs On Call would not be what it is today. They were the pattern we still attempt to emulate. Although Murphy is no longer with us, every time a DOC team walks down a floor of Meriter Hospital, Murphy’s spirit is walking beside them. Today, Lynn volunteers with her pet partner, Tootsie, and they continue to volunteer at Meriter Hospital and continue the work she started with Murphy.