Dover Air Force Base held its Volunteer Excellence Award ceremony July 6, setting precedent by honoring a four-legged volunteer for the first time. Nancy Dunn, 436th Force Support Squadron, the owner of Angel, a long-haired Chihuahua, talked about their experience as pet therapy volunteers.


Dover Air Force Base held its Volunteer Excellence Award ceremony July 6, setting precedent by honoring a four-legged volunteer for the first time. Attendees might have missed the smallest award winners, a long-haired Chihuahua named Angel who sat quietly through the luncheon on the chair next to her owner Nancy Dunn, 436th Force Support Squadron. The duo won for their work as pet therapy volunteers at Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital.

Q How did you get involved in pet therapy?
A She has such a good personality and she loves people, and I wanted to be able to do something to share that because I thought that would be something good to help people. So I checked in to see if the hospital had anything, and they had talked about it. I had about a year from when I started talking to them to doing it. Angel was one of the first dogs.

Q How long have you two been volunteering at Bayhealth?
A About five years in the fall. I lost my son five years ago and didn’t start it until afterward.

Q Did she help you deal with that loss?
A She helped as well. She missed my son because she would go to the front door and look for him, to see when he was coming home. On one hand, it was hard to go to a hospital after he died. But also, doing something like this is very therapeutic. You’re not only sharing and showing off your dog, you’re providing something uplifting for the patients as well as the staff, as well as the other people who come to visit.

Q How do people react when they see Angel?
A She is in a backpack with wheels and she stands up in it, and has her paw over the side like a little person and the other paw in the front because she needs to know where she’s going. She’s just like a little person.
She will be sitting upright when I hold her, people just can’t get over that, she’s just like a little person. She’s just the most human dog I’ve ever seen, she just has such a personality. She comes to work with me on Thursdays and sits in a chair, and everyone in here just loves her. She has a collapsible kennel.
She’s not a yipper at all, I’ve had that question a lot. When you push her in her cart, she just kind of hangs out. I didn’t train her to stay in there. I got the cart when we were taking my stepdaughter to college because I thought that would be the perfect thing to put Angel in. So that’s what I got it for and we just put her in it and away we went. People are amazed that I didn’t have to train her and make her stay in it.

Q What makes her a good therapy dog?
A She has a personality for it, she’s very laid back, although sometimes I notice the hospital smells can make her a little standoffish. If it’s someone who’s not in the bed, she’s more forthcoming. She loves kids, she puts her paws out to greet them, like she’s waving or asking to be picked up. And she’s great because she’s so cute and looks so cute in her cart, the combination of all that.

Q What do you do at the hospital?
A We go to different floors, we go to cardiac and pediatric, the orthopedic type with knee replacements, and even the intensive care unit. And we’ve gotten requests, too. We just kind of look around and see where we’ve been the week before. We’re there for an hour or hour and a half, and we rotate what floors we go on.
You don’t want to have your dog there for hours. Especially after being at work with me all day Thursdays, she doesn’t get her normal naps. She’s afraid to sleep because she might miss something.

Q Is there a certain type of patient that appreciates Angel?
A I think for the most part it depends on the person. Some people think the kids must love her, but when they’re sick, they want mom and they don’t want to be bothered. The siblings that might be there with them might be interested, but it kind of depends. People who miss their pets get excited. There are some people who are allergic but they always say she’s so cute. For the most part, you get positive feedback from patients. And the staff get as much as a kick as the patients do. They might not know my name, but they know Angel.

Email Sarika Jagtiani at sarika.jagtiani@doverpost.com