Program at Maury Regional shows the power of pets


COLUMBIA, Tenn. — For the last decade, four-legged friends have helped make the days a bit brighter at Maury Regional Health (MRH).

The pet therapy program at MRH was initiated in 2013 to help provide a little comfort to anyone who may need it — patients, visitors or hospital staff. The team has included 19 dogs and their handlers so far.

“You can see the positive impact our pets make on everyone they come in contact with at the hospital,” said Cindy Short, volunteer services director at Maury Regional Medical Center (MRMC). “Research has shown that physical contact with a pet can lower anxiety and stress levels, and we’re so glad to be able to provide this service to our patients, visitors and staff.”

In January, Amy Brinkley and Ryman, a 2-year-old goldendoodle, joined the team.

Brinkley, who is married to MRH Chief Administrative Officer Charlie Brinkley, became aware of pet therapy after her mother volunteered with Hand in Paw, an animal-assisted therapy nonprofit based in Birmingham, Alabama. Her mother passed away about four years ago, and Brinkley wanted to get involved in pet therapy to honor her memory.

Ryman was trained in Mt. Pleasant, and they became a registered therapy team through Music City Pet Partners, based in Nashville. Only certified teams may apply for the pet therapy program at MRH, and pet candidates must be proficient in basic commands or have obedience training.

In their short time on the team, Brinkley and Ryman have found a lot of joy in creating smiles — especially in waiting rooms.

“The staff and patients really seem to enjoy seeing her,” Brinkley said. “Don’t think she doesn’t benefit, either. She loves getting all the pets, and you can tell she gets excited as soon as we pull in the parking lot.”

Brinkley and Ryman joined Yokota and Jamison, black Labrador retrievers, and their handler, pastor and MRH volunteer Jeff Kane, as current MRH pet therapy team members.

Yokota is 5 years old, and Jamison just turned 1. Yokota joined the pack after a career change, while Jamison is currently training to become a service dog.

In November, Jamison will travel to Florida to the Canine Companions regional training center for six months of training. Then, he will be placed with a family who has a need for a service dog.

“The hospital has been a great environment for us, and it’s so rewarding to see how happy they make everyone we come in contact with,” Kane said. “I’ve been in ministry for more than 40 years, and I’ve never seen a program like this that’s so accepted and valued like it is here.”

To join the MRH pet therapy team, not only do pets have to obtain certification, but they also must meet immunization and grooming requirements and adhere to organizational policies. Once a pet is certified, the handler must also go through the volunteer orientation process.

“We would love to have additional therapy teams join Amy and Jeff,” Short said. “The amount of joy these animals and their handlers bring to our patients is immeasurable.”

For more information about becoming a volunteer or arranging a pet visit, contact MRH Volunteer Services at 931.380.4047 or go to

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