Once a Stray, Now a Star: Rescue Dog Becomes Therapy Hero in
Hospitals

Once a Stray, Now a Star: Rescue Dog Becomes Therapy Hero in Hospitals

In a heartening tale of transformation, Petunia, once a stray dog wandering the streets of Texas, now touches lives as a therapy dog visiting hospitals in southeast Wisconsin. This 3-year-old American Bully mix has become a beloved figure, celebrated everywhere she goes for her role in bringing comfort and happiness to those in need.

Petunia’s life changed dramatically in March 2023 when Lisa Finke adopted her after she was found as a stray. The connection between them was immediate and profound. “She got off the van and melted into me, and I thought: ‘This will be my therapy dog,’” Lisa Finke recalled about their first encounter. This moment marked the beginning of Petunia’s new life as a companion and helper to others.

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Quickly adapting to her new role, Petunia’s calm, patient, and affectionate nature made her an ideal candidate for a therapy dog. Within just a year, she received certifications from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and First Responders Therapy Dogs. Finke observes the profound effect Petunia has on people: “When you pet a dog, the stress seems to melt away when you touch them.”

Regularly visiting three hospitals, including Rogers Behavioral Health Center in Oconomowoc, Petunia has a special role in comforting children and teens who are receiving treatment for eating disorders. The operations manager for the Residential Eating Disorder Program at Rogers, Jenifer Waite Wollenburg, praised the impact of therapy dogs like Petunia. “Therapy dogs have reached out to our residents and patients in ways that our human counterparts just can’t,” she said. Wollenburg emphasized the unique support these animals provide: “There is just something about the understanding and unconditional love of an animal who is there just to bring you joy and comfort. It’s so needed by so many people, both inside and outside of the hospital. We’re incredibly grateful for our canine comfort teams. They do such wonderful work and they’re deeply appreciated.”

Image Source Credit via YouTube

Petunia’s favorite way to connect with people is through “the lean,” where she gently leans against someone, often falling asleep in their lap, which deeply endears her to those she visits. The bond she forms can be very moving, as shown by a letter Finke received from a patient at Rogers, expressing gratitude for Petunia’s comforting presence during a challenging time.

Reflecting on Petunia’s journey, Finke highlights the broader issue of animal adoption. “There’s just so many dogs out there that need homes, and shelters are overflowing,” she stated, encouraging others to consider adoption. “There are great, great dogs out there. Petunia is an example of that. So, give it a shot.”

Petunia’s story is not just about her own transformation from a stray to a therapy dog, but also a testament to the possibilities of giving a second chance to those in need, be they humans or animals. Her journey inspires and exemplifies the profound impact of kindness and second chances in healing and enriching lives.

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