Take your dog to church

Bruce Hines, left, holds Snuggles as newcomer Eric Presley meets her for the first time.
Sid Fulton laughed as Snuggles the puggle lived up to her name.

“That’s the first woman who ever licked me on the ear,” he joked.

The pug-beagle mix was a hit at church … well, technically in the church’s community room.

Snuggle’s mission was to provide pet therapy, something she’s good at. She makes regular visits to Concord United Methodist Church’s Adult Day Enrichment Services program, a daytime program for senior adults of all denominations, at CUMC.

Snuggles brings her owner, Louise Snodgrass, along for the ride. The dog sits on Louise’s lap as they move around the community room on a rolling chair. Snuggles allows herself to be petted by one senior after the other.

When she isn’t working, Snuggles enjoys spending time at home in Farragut with Louise and Hal Snodgrass and their son, Todd. She tolerates the presence of Rushball, the family cat.

Louise Snodgrass is responsible for growing the pet therapy program that CADES participants look forward to without fail.

“I retired from nursing,” she said. “I spent my last 25 years at Parkwest Hospital. There was some pet therapy there. I didn’t know a lot about it until we got Snuggles and I started investigating.”

She said pet therapy helps people with memory problems as they recall their younger days with their own pets. And their blood pressure drops as they stroke an animal.

Dogs of all sizes — from 5 pounds to 75 pounds — come to visit with participants of CADES.

“After my mother-in-law passed away, we’d had three deaths in the family in six months and had to have two older dogs put down,” she said. “I told my husband I need something younger and he said, ‘Oh no. Not a puppy.’

“I wanted something smaller I could snuggle with and saw Snuggles, a pug and beagle mix, on the Internet. I’d always been found of beagles and hounds and just had to find one around here. I saw her in a newspaper ad and got Snuggles in Roane County through an individual.”

Snuggles was just what the doctor — um, nurse, ordered.

“She wants to be skin on skin all the time,” Snodgrass said.

The pet therapy program started 10 years.

“We’d had my mother-in-law here [at NHC] with dementia,” Snodgrass said, “but she could always remember when the animals visited. After that we got Snuggles. They had a few animals that came here, but it wasn’t really organized, so the activities director said, ‘Would you get the paperwork in order?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’d like to do that.’ I’ve built the program up, but it’s because of volunteers – it’s people I meet in my swim aerobics class at Fort Sanders Fitness and neighbors and friends. I just met a new neighbor from Florida who has a dog and is looking for activities. I said, ‘How about coming to CADES?’”

When a new person gets involved, Louise comes with him or her.

“The main thing is they need to love people and meet the requirements: you can’t have a dog that wants to bark for 30 minutes or is too scared to come into the room to visit. We have 11 dogs that come here to visit,” she said. “I make a schedule out each month. Some come once a week, some come once a month and some are subs.

“When animals visit, they’re very instinctual,” Snodgrass added. “There’ll be a lady that’s very frail and [Snuggles] will be really calm and quiet not to hurt the lady. Then there will be a more robust man and she’ll just be lively and maybe give him kisses. He’ll pet more roughly and she likes that.

“Pet therapy is my passion. I like to share it with the elderly. Everybody has something inside them they have a passion for. You have to find out what it is. When you love doing something, it’s not a chore. You want to share it.”

The program is popular and often has a waiting list, but Celia Gruzalski, who has been CADES executive director since June, said there are openings on certain days.

“We always encourage people to come visit and if we’re full to check back,” she said. “If people are hesitant to use day service, we encourage them to come with a family member to have coffee and look at the program.”