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Pet therapy group brings joy to Piedmont Atlanta Hospital staffers Jerry Coker and Norma Jean

Piedmont Atlanta Hospital workers relax with dogs from Happy Tails Pet Therapy

By Donna Williams Lewis Jerry Coker’s golden retriever Norma Jean knows when it’s show time. Coker, a retired lawyer, is a volunteer with Happy Tails Pet Therapy, a Roswell-based


nonprofit now in its 30th year of “sharing the comfort, healing and connection of the human-animal bond.” Coker, who lives in Buckhead, leads a Happy Tails team that began visiting patients at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital in Buckhead in 2019. During visits to

AUGUST 2021 |

the hospital, his dog wears a red Happy Tails vest identifying her as “Norma Jean The Love Machine.” “When I pull that out of the drawer, she comes trotting over,” Coker said, “and when I slip it on her, she walks to the door because she knows we’re headed to the car. And then, when we get to the

hospital, I think she gets a spring in her step and a very confident air about her as she strides down the hallway. “The experience at times is overwhelming. It’s a combination of seeing how much the interaction with the dog helps the patients and the staff members and realizing what an awesome privilege and responsibility it is to share our dogs with them. … I was on a visit one time and the patient who had been stroking Norma Jean’s face reached up and stroked my face just to say thank you.” When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Happy Tails’ visits with Piedmont Atlanta patients were suspended for safety reasons. But, by summer, talks began on how Happy Tails might safely do visits with Piedmont Atlanta staff, whose stress from dealing with COVID-19 was “palpable,” said Pam Redman, director of Patient Experience at Piedmont Atlanta. The first visit came on a sunny day in December, with a couple of the five dogs in attendance dressed up in Christmas attire. Several more visits with staffers have been held since then. “Staff are so grateful for these visits,” Redman said. “These dogs provide time for the staff to come out, decompress, have some respite and then love on a dog that’s going to love them back and not ask for anything.” Joan Macdonald, a clinical researcher and a member of Happy Tails’ board of directors, helped the organization

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