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From the Emergency Department, Sarah Cain, from left, Jodie Carpenter (nursing student who will start to work at Madison Hospital in December) and Kathleen Lechman visit with therapy dog Apple during the Apple Festival at Madison Hospital. CONTRIBUTED

Apple Festival honors hospital’s therapy dog, entertains employees

MADISON – At Madison Hospital, one of the most popular employees (paws down) was honored at the first annual “Apple Festival.” Apple, the hospital’s therapy dog, accepted the recognition (with a ‘woof’ of approval).

“We wanted to do something fun for our staff and were going down the path of a fall festival — like all the schools do,” Madison Hospital President Mary Lynne Wright said. “One day, it came to us that, instead of a fall festival, it should be an ‘Apple Festival’ in honor of our therapy dog, Apple. So, the first annual Apple Festival was born!”

Apple arrived at Madison Hospital on July 5. Wright cut her vacation one day early to meet Apple. Apple has met with approximately 150 patients to-date.

“Some people have met Apple more than once. Her specialty is newborns. Apple loves babies! We’ve had several new moms request visits,” Wright said.

At the Apple Festival, a scarecrow trail in the Healing Garden exhibited all types of scarecrows — from birthing twin pumpkins from Labor and Delivery to IT clowns from the Emergency Department and everything in between.

“We played ‘Fishing for Apples’ (a variation of ‘Bobbing for Apples’), had a cake walk, tried ‘Bowling with Apples’ and Apple Corn Hole. The most popular stop on our trail was the photo booth for pictures with Apple, the star of the event,” Wright said.

Employees enjoyed snacking on apple cider slushies, hotdogs, chips and an apple dessert bar.

All employees had a chance to visit with Apple. “They loved every minute. Apple even walked in the Cake Walk and landed on a winning number. When the caller said, ‘Stop,’ Apple did as instructed, beating out her handler, Joe Buckelew, for the cake,” Wright said.

To work as a therapy dog, Apple completed two years of extensive training with Guide Dogs of America. She interacts with patients, families and hospital staff.

Joe Taylor serves as Apple’s primary handler. Apple lives with Joe and wife Karen. Apple’s ‘uncle’ is John Buckelew, IT Manager, who takes Apple home one night per week and one weekend per month.

When visiting a patient, Apple spends a little time just ‘reading’ the room. If the patient wants to pet her, Apple can get on the bed (by request) and will often fall asleep from all the petting. “Or the patient can be in a chair and pet Apple, if that’s what they prefer,” Wright said.

“Apple brings a sense of calm to our patients and relieves the tension of being in a hospital,” Wright said.

Recently, a patient was waiting on a liver transplant, and the nurses thought a visit from Apple would be perfect for the young man. They filed a consultation for Joe and Apple.

“Apple immediately jumped on the bed, and a bond was formed between the patient and Apple. Joe said it was incredible to see them together, because the patient needed that relief from his reality, and Apple provided it,” Wright said.

In addition, Apple helps the staff. “Hospitals aren’t easy places to work, and the stress level can be quite significant,” Wright said. “Apple brings joy to everyone she meets, and she helps employees relax for just a moment, to smile, to take a deep breath.”

Wright’s primary goal for Apple was to help employees and patients simultaneously. “She has exceeded that goal for me,” Wright said.

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