Someone You Should Know: Therapy dog and handler offering hope to patients at Sanford hospitals

Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 11:16 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 21, 2022 at 11:22 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Winston is an English Cream Golden Retriever and therapy dog at Sanford hospitals

His owner is also his volunteer handler Ashlee Simonson who knew from the beginning that he’d be perfect for this job.

“We got Winston as a puppy, and he’s always kind of been an old soul I said. Just loves people, he seems very wise. I would love to take credit for his good behavior but I think it’s just him,” said Ashlee.

He went through rigorous training through Therapy Dog International and passed the test.

“I know when I put his bandana on, he’s just like a normal dog at home, but when I put his bandana on he knows it’s time to work, and he sees my uniform and he jumps out of the car and you can just tell this presence of alright, I’m on the clock now, I have a job to do,” said Ashlee.

Ashlee began taking Winston to volunteer at Sanford’s main hospital, but now visits the children’s hospital as well.

“They are little celebrities when they walk through. It takes them a while for them to get where they are going because anyone in the hallways stop them,” said Sanford Volunteer Coordinator Bekah Aisenbrey.

He brings comfort and encouragement to those he visits of all ages.

“I think when we walk into a patient’s room, especially little kids who, you know they’re not expecting it, they’re going through a tough time. When Winston comes in, makes their day a little better,” Ashlee.

Winston has tricks that he performs for patients.

“It’s a heartwarming experience having them here. You can really tell it really impacts the patient’s emotional state. When they go visit patients who might be anxious during their hospital stay. Or feeling really lonely, they may have pets at home but they don’t get them,” said Bekah.

Winston visited 8-year-old Madelyn and reminded her of her dogs at home.

“Got me really excited. Dogs sometimes cheer kids up,” said Sanford Children’s patient Madelyn Cowdin.

The parents and families of patients find moments of calm during Winston’s visits.

“It really brings a light to their face and brings a lot of joy when we see them come here and visit those patients,” said Bekah.

He knows to be both gentle and patient when on the job.

“We’ve had patients that are having to do some procedures that are not very fun, and if he can be a sort of an incentive or something that can help that process, I love to share him with other people,” said Ashlee.

Ashlee and Winston plan to continue their mission to bring happiness and reassurance to all those he comes in contact with.

“It’s innately in him to provide comfort to others,” said Ashlee.

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