Russell County Medical Center | News Article

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Regional Cancer Center now offers pet therapy to help patients

Mary Sue Neeley, a patient at the Regional Cancer Center, gets a visit from Willie, the pet therapy dog, and his handler, Kristy Jones.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – Each time Willie walks down the hall at Johnson City Medical Center’s Regional Cancer Center, he’s greeted with smiles.

Willie – a standard poodle – brings with him a sense of comfort and normalcy for cancer patients undergoing treatment.

“I absolutely love seeing him and spending time with him while I get my chemotherapy,” said Mary Sue Neeley, a patient at the Regional Cancer Center. “Treatment takes hours, but Willie really makes the time go by so much faster.”

Willie is the newest addition to the Regional Cancer Center, which now offers pet therapy to its patients.

“The oncology unit is a place where no one wants to be, so we do everything we can to make sure our patients are as comfortable as possible,” said Zilipah Cruz, nurse manager at the Regional Cancer Center. “Being able to bring pet therapy to our patients is amazing. It helps ease their anxiety.”

Studies show that therapy dogs like Willie reduce fear, pain, anxiety and stress in patients undergoing treatment.

Willie went through training to become a certified therapy dog, and he makes his rounds once a week at the Regional Cancer Center. Every day when he arrives, a nurse gives his handler a list of eligible patients who would like to see him.

“He can tell who needs him. He’ll just walk right up and put his head on their lap; it’s the sweetest thing,” said Kristy Jones, Willie’s handler. “You could see his tail wag when they talk to him. Willie loves it. He thinks he’s something else when he goes in there.”

Pet therapy is a free service offered through Mountain States’ volunteer services.

“You can see the patients’ faces light up when he walks in the room,” said Jones. “They’ll pet him and love on him, and it seems like for that moment, they forget why they’re really there.”

Mountain States also offers pet therapy at all of its hospitals.

For more information on volunteering at Mountain States, call 423-431-2325 or visit