By Rick Stedman Here‟s a look at some of the creative things Department of Revenue employees do in their spare time. Our first feature is on Karin Hendrickson and her dog Cooper. It‟s been six years in the making, but Karin Hendrickson is pleased with the outcome. Karin, who‟s the agency‟s Internal Audit Manager, has wanted to work as a hospital volunteer. The volunteer work she desired involved the accompaniment of a dog, yes, a four-legged dog. “It took me a while to find a pet who would be a good candidate to work in a hospital setting,” said Karin. “I searched relentlessly and finally found Cooper, my 95 lb. golden retriever.” Together, Karin and Cooper visit Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia at least twice a month. Their role is simple: to provide comfort to patients and love ones who simply need a calming moment, if only for a moment. Karin and Cooper are part of the hospital‟s Animal-Assisted Activities and Therapy Program. Specifically, they partake in the activities portion of the program. The hospital describes the Animal- Assisted Activities (AAA) program like this: “The AAA are goal-directed activities designed to improve patients‟ quality of life through utilization of the human/animal bond. Animals and their handlers must be screened and trained. Activities may be therapeutic but are not guided by a credentialed therapist.” Studies have shown that having a pet lowers a person‟s blood pressure, improves heart conditions, and melts away stress. Many can attest to the times when their pets have acted with compassion, good humor, and friendship as our guardian angels, muses, alarm clocks, or heating pads. “In our fast-paced lives, animals are companions that offer great psycho-social benefits of love and companionship without too many demands,” said Allen Schoen, director of the Veterinary Institute for Therapeutic Alternatives. When Karin and Cooper visit Providence St. Pete, their presence provides a security blanket for those in need. Karin shared a recent example. “A seven-year-old boy recently asked me why I bring a dog to the hospital, and I said to him, „you‟re smiling, right‟?” In preparation for their regular hospital visits, Karin must bathe and groom Cooper 24 hours prior to the visit. “In order to be hospital-ready, I have to trim Cooper‟s nails and make sure his coat is clean,” said Karin. To become a member of the hospital‟s volunteer program, the handler and animal must go through a four-month training program. Volunteer requirements include some of the following: Handler-animal team must pass a skills and aptitude test Animals must pass a pet partners health screening Handler must complete the handler‟s workshop There are many more steps in the process, and Karin and Cooper passed with flying colors. “Cooper really interacts well with people,” said a proud Karin. Last year at Providence, animal-assisted activities and therapy visits totaled 482. One of Karin‟s initial visits she recalled vividly. “There were two women in the hospital, and their loved one was dying. But when they saw Cooper, they were temporarily removed from that painful situation as they stroked him and felt the comfort of his presence.” It‟s times like this that remind Karin why she loves bringing Cooper to the hospital twice a month.