Veterans in hospice care at Jack C. Montgomery Veterans Affairs hospital in Muskogee are getting a special treat every Friday from a therapy dog named Echo.
The five-year-old Collie has been training for two years with her owner, Vietnam era veteran, Terry Keith. Keith got Echo certified through the American Kennel Association in January and approved through the Muskogee VA hospital this summer. Echo started visiting veterans at the VA in August.
Keith has spent countless hours in the Muskogee VA for more than twelve surgeries. During that time he thought about his dog. He wanted other veterans to have something to smile about while they were here recovering, or possibly, in their final days.
“It’s a little bit more than just a hand shake and saying thank you for your service,” said Keith. “It’s more heart felt to have Echo give them a hand shake and have them, if possible, give her a treat.”
Keith and Echo walk up and down the halls visiting each room.
“To see the patients come alive is more than thanks that I can give them,” said Keith. “Echo knows what she is doing.”
Many of the veterans at the hospital have suffered from a stroke and have lost most of their speech, and literacy abilities.
Speech pathologist Jennifer Neely was moved to tears on Friday when Echo came to visit one of her patients.
“To see my patient smile when he doesn’t smile normally, to see my patient say Eh-o eh-o, that’s a really big step,” said Neely. “It makes me emotional.”
She was also excited when she saw her patient attempt to sign the hospital consent form to be on FOX23’s cameras.
“When he actually made a ‘J’, I was totally surprised,” said Neely. “And then to have him stay on the signature line and to make a real good attempt at writing his name, that was a real surprise because I haven’t been able to get anything close to that.”
She came up to Keith and Echo and thanked them for what they had done. Keith told FOX23 afterwards, that a nurse or staff member thanks them for something like that every time they are here.
“Sometimes it’s so moving I have to leave the room early because I get choked up,” said Keith.
He plans to keep volunteering his time every Friday afternoon to visit the veterans. The hospital tells FOX23 News it hopes to expand the therapy dog program.