Sixteen of Fauquier Hospital's most dedicated volunteers have taken their charitable commitment to another level by posing in a new calendar, often wearing little more than a bandanna around their necks.
The "Dogs of Fauquier Hospital" have left tongues wagging as hundreds of the $5 calendars have been snapped up at the hospital gift shop and stores in Warrenton and from the dog owners who also volunteer in the hospital's Pet Therapy Program.
The idea behind the two-year-old program is that spending time with man's best friend during a hospital stay can help to relieve anxiety, lower blood pressure and even alleviate pain.
"Even if it's just a few minutes, it's worth it for them," said Sheryl Vollrath, who coordinates the program, which has about 20 human volunteers and more than a dozen canine ones. "They give the dog a hug and say, 'You've made my day.' "
If all 3,000 copies of the 2005 calendar are sold, the volunteer Fauquier Hospital Auxiliary will be able to donate $15,000 to the hospital, which has embarked on a capital campaign to finance a $20 million expansion and renovation to establish a cancer center and overhaul the emergency room, birthing center and cardiopulmonary department.
Vollrath, who visits Fauquier Hospital with Samantha, her Samoyed, said that although she hopes the calendar's proceeds boost the construction effort, the group's real mission is to provide comfort and kindness to those who are sick.
"It just brightens their day knowing we care about them," said Vollrath, who said patients often miss their own pets. "So many of them are animal lovers and are really happy to pet the dog."
The idea to feature the canine volunteers on a calendar came from hospital comptroller Darryl White, who supervises Brenda Lawrence, an accountant at the hospital.
White suggested the calendar when he saw Lawrence bring her border collie mix Qwill to meet her co-workers before making rounds of the patients.
Before a hospital visit, Qwill -- or any other certified pet -- is groomed and readied with his volunteer identification on his collar. Like any other volunteer, each dog has its ID photograph taken, although unlike their human counterparts, a few have been known to chew on their badges.
One recent recipient of a pet therapy visit was Kenny Staton, 13, who checked into Fauquier Hospital on Wednesday morning with stomach pains that doctors feared might be appendicitis. By Thursday, Kenny was feeling better and sipping Gatorade when Abby Bernard knocked on the door.
Bernard serves as a "pet rep," asking for permission before the dogs can visit and making sure the patient is not allergic or too sick for pet therapy.
"Almost everybody says yes, they'd love to see a dog," said Bernard, who also serves on the auxiliary board.
Kenny's mother, Bonnie Childress, agreed to the visit by Annie, who is "Miss May" on the calendar. The gentle black Labrador and Australian shepherd mix trotted in and placed her snout on the edge of the bed, and Kenny smiled as he tickled her behind her ears.
"He loves animals," said Childress, who lives in Warrenton.
Although some staff members were initially skeptical about allowing animals into a health care facility, the dogs have apparently won over most employees.
"People come out of their offices to see them," said Kathy McCoubrey of Broad Run, who visits Wednesdays with her Dalmatians Jamie and Romy, who are featured in April. Another one of her dogs, Tracey, is more than 14 years old and has "retired" with more than 700 hours of volunteer service.
McCoubrey, who works as a dog trainer and writes about dogs, said it is important for them to be friendly but not too friendly.
"They can't go jumping on people with tubes coming out of their arms," she said.
For this reason, before being certified as volunteers, all pet therapy dogs must pass a rigorous obedience test and be evaluated on three trial visits to the hospital.
Not all dogs are pet therapy material, but those that are provide an invaluable service, according to patients, staff and visitors who have had their palms nuzzled by the devoted team.
During their shifts, nurses regularly keep tabs on patients who might be up for a canine visit and recommend them to the volunteers when they arrive.
"Patients just seem more happy and more relaxed to see something other than a white coat," said Amanda Champion, a nurse on the second floor, which is reserved mostly for short-term patients. "It's an instant change, a sense of home at the hospital."