SOUTH KINGSTOWN –As Molly the Therapy Dog walked across the halls of South County Hospital, she lit the faces of hundreds of patients and stole the hearts of all she knew.
Twice a week Molly, wearing her red therapy dog vest, would visit the hospital to brighten the day of patients and staff. Over the years, Molly made a total of 925 visits, a record set by Therapy Dog International.
“She absolutely knew she was helping,” Joanne LaBelle, Molly’s owner said. “She was a regular dog, but when she put on her vest she was going to do her job. She knew I expected her to be calm and gentle. That’s what a patient needs for healing and they gave that back to her.”
This past Saturday, Feb. 11 after a quick bout with cancer, Molly passed away with her family. The golden retriever, who brought joy to those who needed it most, will forever be the guardian angel her patients all knew.
Ten years earlier Molly began her job as therapy dog for South County Hospital, along with the Scallop Shell Nursing Home, South Kingstown Senior Services and the South Kingstown Adult Day Services.
LaBelle began training Molly at eight weeks old, dropping pots and pans in the kitchen to get her accustomed to the unexpected noises in hospitals and nursing homes. LaBelle even brought Molly to the Scallop Shell Nursing Home before she was fully trained so she could learn to maneuver around wheelchairs.
“I knew she’d be a therapy dog. A golden retriever can steal your heart. She’s a people pleaser no matter what,” LaBelle said.
Helping to cheer patients seemed to be Molly’s calling. Each time LaBelle brought Molly to the hospital, she’d stop and listen. As Molly walked down the hall, all she could hear was the ‘ooh’s’ of a welcome visit from patients.
Often, Molly seemed to be exactly what the doctor ordered.
At South County Hospital, LaBelle remembers one grumpy man sitting in the hospital bed as if the last thing he’d want would be a visit from a dog. When Molly entered his room, it took seconds for the man to warm up and immediately start petting Molly’s head.
During one visit with a terminally ill man, Molly rested her head on the patient’s bed and both closed their eyes comforted.
To bring joy around the holidays, Molly would dress up, wearing costumes to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Halloween.
At the South Kingstown Adult Day Services on Old Post Road, Molly would bring laughs.
When clients would hide a tennis ball from Molly, one of her favorite games, all they had to say was ‘find it” and she sniff for the ball, tickling people with her nose as she searched for the missing tennis ball.
One of the most fun games was a questionnaire. The clients at the Adult Day Services would ask who had the best eye sight.
“She went up to the lady with the thickest eye glasses. The woman said, ‘I’m going to tell the doctor that,’” LaBelle remembers.
All across the places Molly touched, her friends were surprised by their angel’s passing.
“Molly’s visits were the bright spots in the week for so many people,” Martha Murphy, spokesperson for South County Hospital said. “Both Joanne and Molly added a really special caring touch to the experience patients have here. We’re going to miss Molly tremendously.”
“Molly was the most generous, loving dogs I’ve ever seen. She always had a smile on her face. She went up to every client and warm right up to them. She’d decrease their anxiety and put the clients in a calm state,” Marge Gagliargi, an activity facilitator at the South Kingstown Adult Day Services said.
“My best days at SCH were when you and Molly would stop by the Pharmacy and I got to drop to one knee, pet Molly gently, letting me feel her love,” Jonathan Mundy, Director of Pharmacy and Disease Management Services at South County Hospital said.
To all whose lives Molly has touched, Labelle said, “It was you who gave her such joy and comfort in your healing. That’s just what a therapy dog does. Thank you all.”