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Pet therapy dog Finlay volunteers alongside his owner and Moffitt volunteer, Alan Preston.

Alan Preston and his five-year-old West Highland White Terrier fur-son Finlay started volunteering at Moffitt Cancer Center in December of 2017.

Moffitt pet therapy volunteer Alan Preston with his dog, Finlay.

“Moffitt seemed like the logical choice for me for many reasons,” Alan said.  “About 18 years ago, my wife had surgery at Moffitt. During her recovery, someone knocked on the door asking if we wanted a visit from pet therapy.”

As pet owners, the Preston’s welcomed volunteer Pam and her dog into the room. As luck would have it, Pam was a tech at their veterinary clinic. It was the sign Preston needed to get Finlay certified as a pet therapy dog.

Preston and Finlay started visiting lobbies and waiting rooms at Moffitt before transitioning to inpatient rooms. To date, the duo has met more than 1,700 patients and is close to achieving 700 volunteer hours. Preston was inspired to find ways to help improve Moffitt’s Volunteer Services program.

“I got involved with Project Pup, an organization that certifies dogs for pet therapy,” Preston said. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Project Pup hosted bi-monthly onsite evaluations at Moffitt’s Magnolia campus.

Moffitt has 450 active volunteers. According to Volunteer Services Coordinator Debbie Emory, Moffitt volunteers accumulated a total of 42,749 service hours during 2019 which equates to a cost savings of more than $1 million for the cancer center.

“Volunteers interact directly with patients, helping them navigate their way through cancer. They offer companionship, pet therapy visits and technical support with things like the Get Well Network and the patient portal,” said Emory.

Alan and Finlay (far left) with other members of the Moffitt Pet Therapy team.

Volunteers play an important role in enhancing the patient experience at the cancer center, but since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Moffitt’s Volunteer Services program has been temporarily suspended. Nonetheless, volunteers are still finding ways to help; some have pitched in to make homemade masks for patients and staff, while others are delivering masks to Moffitt on behalf of donors who are unable to travel or do not have a means of transportation. Once visitor restrictions are lifted, Moffitt will welcome back its volunteers and begin recruiting additional ones.

Preston says Finlay misses his time at Moffitt, but together they are working on their skills. Finlay was recently certified as a Canine Good Citizen and will be ready to go once the cancer center reopens for visitors.