Tom Watson and his beautiful golden retriever, Fischer-Rose, are part of the St. Luke’s Wood River family. After volunteering weekly for seven years as part of the hospital’s Pet Therapy program, it’s hard to imagine the hospital without Fischer-Rose.
“We try to give back as much as we can,” Tom says. “I wake up every day thankful we can live in this beautiful valley.”
Tom and Fischer-Rose bring hope and healing to both hospital staff and patients. But when Tom initially adopted Fischer-Rose, named after Fischer skis and because she was as beautiful as a Rose, he didn’t know a thing about dog training.
“She was completely wild and untrained,” Tom says. During her training, Tom and Fischer-Rose greeted people at a local coffee shop, and a stranger suggested that Fischer-Rose should train to be a pet therapy dog. A light went off and Tom knew this would be their next adventure.
During their initial hospital certification visit, Fischer-Rose approached a woman in a wheelchair who couldn’t talk or move her hands. The new pet therapy dog sat next to the woman’s chair just as she had been trained to do.
Although Tom was a bit flustered, Fischer-Rose knew exactly how to help. She walked to the front of the wheelchair, tipped her head, and with loving eyes immediately connected with the woman. Tears rolled down the woman’s face. As Tom and the dog finished the visit and completed a successful certification visit, the certifier said to Tom, “This dog was born to do this. I’ve never seen anything like what Fischer-Rose just did.”
That was just the start of many healing encounters. Fischer-Rose instinctively knows how to help patients, whether with a doggie hug or slowly and gently cuddling up to a young patient who is in pain.
Often, when Fischer-Rose is working with patients, they’ll say, “I don’t need pain medication right now—Fischer’s taking my pain.”
Tom humbly refuses to take credit. “I train her to walk in the hall, to approach and sit next to a wheelchair, bed or walker, that’s it. The rest is intuitive. I just hold the leash, Fischer does all the work.”
The team was recognized as Volunteers of the Year in 2015.
Tom is committed to growing the Pet Therapy program. His goal is to have at least 15 certified teams—a team at the hospital every day.
Tom and his wife, Cheri, share the spirit of volunteering. Cheri is on the St. Luke’s Wood River Volunteer Board, and the couple is active in their church and other non-profit organizations. Together the family—Tom, Cheri and Fischer-Rose—exemplify the spirit of generosity.