Photos courtesy of Dogs On Call

Captain American is a nonjudgmental listener. No matter who’s reading what book, his tail is wagging. He seems to be smiling, wanting only for someone to pet him. And that’s encouraging for the young boy who’s practically whispering the words of a children’s book into Captain’s floppy ears.

The affable beagle is a member of Dogs on Call, Inc., whose volunteer owners and their pets provide activities and therapy to a variety of groups. On this weekend, Captain and owner Chelsea Schaack, along with Kym Thompson and her French bulldog Latte, were at Lakeview Library as part of the Pet Partners Read with Me program, which sets up at libraries all over Dane County so kids can come in and read to the animals.

“They’re a nonjudgmental listener and that goes a long way,” Laura Kuchta, president of the Madison chapter, says of the animals. “The child pets the animal, they relax, their blood pressure lowers and they actually enjoy reading, which is something they don’t always do at other places.”

Dogs on Call volunteers and their animals—including a few cats, a bunny and some mini horses—visit hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, psychiatric centers and jails and the UWMadison dorms.

Kuchta tells the story of one pet partner who brought her Newfoundland dog to the Veterans Hospital in Madison. “Some of the veterans really don’t say anything and they’ll just bury their faces in the fur of that big Newfoundland and they may just cry for awhile. And then when that’s over, when their emotions are out, they’ll look up and say ‘you know I really just needed that. Thank you for coming to visit.’”

Studies have shown that pet therapy lowers blood pressure, eases fear and anxiety and brightens moods.

Laurie Ingwell, volunteer recruitment coordinator at Unitypoint Health-Meriter, says there are few places the therapy pets can’t go in the hospital, and even the family, visitors and staff benefit. “It brings joy to everyone,” she says.

Dogs on Call started nearly 10 years ago and has 120 members in the Madison area. It’s always looking for more, especially volunteers interested in going to medical facilities and nursing homes, Kuchta says. Animals must pass certain behavior tests before beginning their service.

Captain, as it happens, has been serving humans most of his life. He was once a research animal and has a tattoo on his ear to prove it. Then he helped train vet techs at Madison College. Now he’s a Dogs on Call card carrying member—really. Schaack has baseball cards with Captain’s image on them. He’s a very good boy.  –Marni McEntee

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