JANESVILLE, Wis. — Hearing the jingling bell on Raven's harness as she saunters through the halls of Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center is like hearing the ice cream truck driving down the street.
People poke their heads out of their rooms and gather in the halls as they wait their turns to pet the jet-black Labrador retriever.
Raven and her handler, Frank Lopez, have been volunteering at Mercyhealth since November. They are one of the human-canine teams in the hospital's Loving Tails program, which brings trained dogs to the hospital to visit patients, The Janesville Gazette reported.
The program started at Rockford Health System before it merged with Mercyhealth. Mercyhealth continued the program in Rockford and then started it in Janesville last fall, said Jill Ayres, manager of volunteers.
Raven is one of three dogs who visit patients in Janesville. She and Lopez are at the downtown hospital all day every Monday and Friday, Lopez said.
On Feb. 14, Valentine's Day, Raven delivered her own valentines to patients in the form of heart-shaped, squeezable stress balls.
The dogs in the program help boost patients' wellness by reducing stress and improve their moods, said Jennifer Muchow, patient experience manager.
Staff love having the dogs around just as much as the patients do, she said.
Raven is trained not only to provide emotional support for patients, but as a guide dog for Lopez, who is blind.
Lopez had a yellow Labrador named Nolan for 11 years. He and Nolan clocked more than 1,600 hours visiting patients at University Hospital in Madison when they lived in Sun Prairie.
When Raven is held by her harness, she knows she has to help Lopez. She guides him by blocking him if he's about to stumble into an obstacle, putting her head up to the buttons on elevators and showing him where to make turns, among other things.
Raven has gotten to know Mercyhealth like the back of her paw, Lopez said.
When Raven walks into the hospital, she immediately goes to her bed behind the check-in counter, Lopez said.
Raven has many skills and isn't opposed to showing them off. While passing out valentines that Friday, Lopez asked her to bow for a family who was visiting the hospital.
Raven stretched out her front paws and bowed her head. The family and others nearby cheered.
Volunteer dogs at Mercyhealth are trained through the Dogs on Call program based in Madison, Ayres said.
People looking to volunteer as handlers for their dogs must go through background checks and Mercyhealth volunteer training, she said.
William Hartwick said having Raven visit that Friday morning was uplifting.
He has two dogs of his own at home. One of his dogs, Sadie, is a support animal and runs to his side if he falls.
Hartwick scratched Raven's snout, and Lopez let Hartwick give her some kibble, which Raven appreciated greatly.
"She made him smile," Hartwick's wife said. "We haven't seen him smile like that in days."