Louise Mandt and her dog, Kenai, are part of the Olmsted Medical Center therapy dog program. Kenai is an 8-year-old border collie-husky mix. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Louise Mandt and her dog, Kenai, are part of the Olmsted Medical Center therapy dog program. Kenai is an 8-year-old border collie-husky mix. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Kenai makes her rounds at snout level and Louise follows on a leash.

And best yet, they take requests.

"We visit hospitals, take any specific requests. We see inpatients at hospitals, visit a couple times a month, and we also go to the care center here in town. The dogs go to the Olmsted hospital and visit the birth center, too," said Louise Mandt of Chatfield.

She's often found on the tall end of the leash while her 8-year-old husky-border collie mix, Kenai, makes the rounds at the hospital, bringing a cold snout, a thick, soft coat and loving eyes to people whose spirits might be down or who need a paw up in recovering from or coping with an illness.

Louise moved to Chatfield from Bismarck, N.D., two years ago to marry Mike Mandt and she brought Kenai with her to become part of the new family.

Kenai and Louise are a certified therapy team through Pet Partners, a national organization, formerly known as the Delta Society. The therapy animal program "trains and screens volunteers and their pets for visiting animal programs in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, schools and other facilities," according to the Pet Partners website.

It also stated, "The program was established in 1990 to ensure that 'both ends of the leash,' people as well as animals, were well-prepared to participate in animal-assisted activity and animal-assisted therapy programs. Pet Partners' Therapy Animal Program is the only national registry that requires volunteer training and screening of animal-handler teams. Pet Partners' national network links volunteers with facilities in their own communities that request visiting pets and helps volunteer teams contact facilities to begin visits in new locations."

The site listed the medical benefits of having pets visit hospital inpatients. "At the heart of all of Pet Partners' programs is a research foundation which demonstrates that when animals are around, people's blood pressure goes down, stress and anxiety levels are reduced, people feel less lonely and less depressed, and they tend to be more social and community-oriented."

The dedicated volunteers and their pets have been credited for helping people forget about pain and providing distractions so nurses can perform medical procedures on pediatric patients. The partners have also been inspiring and motivating patients who are recovering from a stroke or other brain injuries, helping them perform more physical therapy exercises than when working with their human therapists alone.

The Louise-Kenai team has been in action as part of more than 11,000 Pet Partners handler-animal teams since Kenai was a year old.

Following their move to Minnesota, Kenai became one of the pioneers of the Olmsted Medical Center (OMC) therapy pet program, along with Shiner, a wirehaired dachshund. She's now one of 10 dogs touring OMC.

According to the OMC therapy pet program outline, "Olmsted Medical Center established a therapy pet visit program to encourage patients' social interaction, provide companionship and comfort to its hospital patients, visitors and families, and to improve social interaction between OMC employees."

Louise noted, "She (Kenai) likes to visit people, and she gets a really good response from the patients."

Kenai often goes to the hospital in costume, in addition to wearing a therapy dog vest, to brighten patients' days even more. "I can put ears or a hat on her before we go, and she knows that means she's going to work, but if I put ears on her at home, she's got them off in two seconds," Louise added.

She also pointed out that one of Kenai's buddies, a miniature Doberman pinscher named Jack, was the first therapy dog to prowl the halls of the Mayo Clinic, and the revered institution is now literally going to the dogs, with a shake, wag and a nuzzle.

The Mandts also have a West Highland terrier that Louise hopes to someday train for therapy visits, as her enthusiastic nature might be good for humans.

However, for now, she and Kenai are busy getting down to the business of making people happy by being uplifting Pet Partners.