By Philip Hosmer

When Steve Pilara and his dog Buster were walking in their neighborhood, they came upon a mother with a young boy that made them pause. The boy had Down’s Syndrome and was staring intently at Buster. The mother was nervous and reticent because of previous negative experiences between her son and dogs.

But the way her son was gazing at Buster, who returned the look with his own eager, playful expression, convinced her to let her son reach out to Buster. The two then became fast friends and played for 20 minutes, and the mother was left in tears—-of joy.

“I was so moved by the experience, that I thought it would be good to try to do this some more,” says Steve Steve, board member and volunteer for Pets on Wheels. I heard about Pets on Wheels from a local pet store, and Buster and I have been involved for three years now.”

Steve and Buster visit Anne Arundel Medical Center and Pikesville Middle School regularly, and they both find it rewarding.

“It’s great to bring so much joy to another person, and Buster has so much fun, when he’s happy, I’m happy,” Steve, a resident of Beverly Beach, Md. says. “Being able to make a difference in the community is very rewarding.

Steve recalls visiting a young girl in a hospital who had trouble sleeping because of all the noises near her room. She laid down with Buster on a sofa near her bed, and within five minutes she was sound asleep and continuing sleeping after they left the room.

In another instance, Steve visited a hospital patient who was in severe pain. After playing with Buster for 15 minutes, a nurse came in to deliver his pain medication. The man told the nurse he felt OK and didn’t need the medication.

After three years, Steve is still amazed by the connections Buster and he make with patients and also with each other.

“As close as you think you are to your dog, doing therapy work brings you even closer,” he says. You create a deeper bond that you don’t even fathom is possible.”

By Harry Bosk

The residents of FutureCare of Dundalk are elated when Pets on Wheels (PoW) volunteer Pat Sinclair and her dog Ellie walk through the door. “They know when Ellie is in the house,” says Pat. “She isn’t their love bucket because buckets overflow. She is their love sponge.” It’s an appropriate metaphor because according to Pat, the residents see Ellie as an old friend who has come to visit. They soak up every minute of the time they spend with her.

In some instances, Pat and Ellie are the only visitors they have. And, as Pat will tell you, Ellie easily makes new friends and eagerly greets new residents. Over time, Ellie becomes their regular visitor.

Pat and Ellie visit on Tuesdays and Fridays. And the residents know when they’re coming: “When I miss a day the residents aren’t shy about asking me why,” Pat says. “They look at Ellie and say ‘where were you?’. Then they look at me and – sometimes pointing their finger – say, “It’s your fault because you drive the van.”’

Pat dutifully prepares Ellie for every visit. She grooms the dog with a brush and puts on her dog therapy vest. “Ellie gets excited because she knows where she is going,” Pat says. “She’s the star. It’s all about her, the fun she has and the joy she brings to everyone else.”

Kelly Flipowicz, director of Admissions at FutureCare of Dundalk remarks, “Pat and Ellie have been visiting six and a half years. They have established a strong bond with so many residents that they have come to see Ellie as their dog. When I give tours of our facility; I always tell visitors about Pat and Ellie.”

Kelly adds that some of the FutureCare of Dundalk’s short-term residents are dog owners. “Pat and Ellie help fill the void they may be feeling while they are here,” she says.

Pat Sinclair explains that her regular visits with Ellie brighten her own day. “I feel so much better. You can’t just not want to do this. On the days we can’t come, my week feels incomplete.”



Like most Pets on Wheels (PoW) volunteers, Judith Fishman loves dogs and helping others. She regularly visits FutureCare in Reisterstown or Gilchrest Hospice and brings one of her three Golden Retrievers, Barney, Chloe, and Barney with her.

This past year, she and her trio of retrievers and two therapy cats logged more than 250 volunteer hours. In recognition of her time and dedication she will receive the Silver Volunteer Service Award at the POW picnic on July 23rd.

Initially, Judith didn’t think she would be able to participate at FutureCare or Gilchrest. “I didn’t think I would have the stomach for it. FutureCare can be tough because you develop relationships with people and then they die. But my experience there prepared me for Gilchrest,” she said.

She finds Gilchrest especially rewarding, “Patients receive the best quality of care right up to the end. I’m glad that I can be a part of that care,” she says. In addition, she sees the valuable contribution her pets bring to everyone there. “Sometimes the patients are asleep but I let the family know we are also there for them. ” Judith finds volunteering at Gilchrest gratifying. “I feel like the dogs and I have accomplished something.”

As the owner of three Golden Retrievers there’s no doubt about the breed Judith prefers. Her love for this breed introduced her to the world of therapy dogs in nursing homes and other facilities. Thirteen years ago, while attending Goldenstock, an annual summer weekend retreat for the owners of Golden Retrievers she learned about Therapy Dogs International. After volunteering for that organization she became a PoW volunteer.

Judith credits Gilchrest for teaching her more about life and death. She recounts an experience with a patient there who related to Chloe because they both had difficulty breathing. She gave Judith a poem The Dash about the meaning of life. This patient accepted death as a part of life and she had no fears about dying.

Judith still misses that woman. She wishes that she and her dogs could have spent more time with her.

It’s experiences like this that make Judith a dedicated volunteer. It’s also her desire to serve others that compels her to visit FutureCare and Gilchrest.