GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Abby and Bella are known simply as the Garden Park dogs. In fact, you could say they’re like celebrities around the hospital.
Where you see Abby and Bella, Mary Pecoul can’t be far behind. As a volunteer at Garden Park, Pecoul leads the hospital’s pet therapy program.
"This is in my heart to do this," said Pecoul.
Pecoul and her pups are always willing to lift the spirits of the staff, but her biggest mission is to put smiles on the faces of patients. Garden Park Patient safety director Rea Lenz sees the positive impact all the time.
“I think for patients who are having a difficult time and struggling with their hospitalization, especially those who have beloved pets at home that they’re missing, I think they are a true comfort,” said Lenz.
Many stories can be told of the comfort provided by Abby and Bella. Pecoul remembers how they made one woman feel who was facing an extended and difficult hospital stay.
“She had no one, and they said ‘who can we call’, so they called us,” Pecoul. “We stayed with the lady from beginning to the end, and when she walked out of this hospital, they said we were her angels.”
Pet therapy at Garden Park didn’t start with Abby and Bella. Nearly a decade ago, Pecoul first brought her dog Dixie to the hospital. After Dixie passed away, she had no intention of continuing the program, but others had a different idea.
“I told the leader of our group that my time for pet therapy was with her [Dixie], and it’s over. And she said no it’s not,” Pecoul said.
Over the next year, Pecoul became the owner of Abby and Bella and hasn’t looked back, spending more than 50 hours a week at the hospital. But Pecoul’s service doesn’t stop there. She also visits nursing homes, hospices and a couple of weekend’s a month, she gives children the opportunity to read to her dogs at Harrison County Libraries as part of the Sit, Stay, Read children’s reading program.
"The kids will read to the dogs because the dogs aren't judgmental," Pecoul said. "They won't make fun of you, so they're more likely to read to a dog than to you."
With more than 18,000 volunteer service hours earned, Pecoul has received multiple presidential volunteer service awards. She doesn’t volunteer for the awards or for self-gratification though. She does it to help others.
“If you can put a smile on someone’s face that’s dying for five minutes, it’s worth it,” she explained.
According to Pecoul, pet therapy wouldn’t be possible without her husband. She calls him the Shih Tzu shuttle. The dogs can only be on duty two hours at a time, so her husband comes to drop one off and pick one up to take home throughout the day.
Garden Park is always looking for more volunteers. For more information, visit here.