Volunteering was his silver lining after MS diagnosis

Dan Kehler went into a deep funk after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2005. MS is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. Dan was only 49 years old when he was forced to quit the auto technician job he loved. Instead of working on cars, Dan began spending his days watching television. “After my MS diagnosis, I got very depressed,” said Dan.

Angel Dogs have been bringing a sense of being at home to patients at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital for more than 10 years. Anxiety, fears, loneliness have been lessened by many individuals who have received visits or met an Angel Dog in the hall. Numerous patients and their families have been given a refreshing welcome change in routine and something different to look forward to during a day filled with therapies.

Angel Dogs have been bringing a sense of being at home to patients at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital for more than 10 years. Anxiety, fears, loneliness have been lessened by many individuals who have received visits or met an Angel Dog in the hall. Numerous patients and their families have been given a refreshing welcome change in routine and something different to look forward to during a day filled with therapies.

His wife, Karen, was working as a nurse at Madonna and suggested that Dan check out the Angel Dog volunteer program. He had trained dogs before, but currently didn’t have a canine companion. During a visit to the local humane society, a beautiful golden retriever looked up at Dan. “Our eyes met and I knew he was the one,” said Dan, who named the three-month-old puppy Max. After months of training, Max and Dan applied and were accepted as an official Madonna Angel Dog team. The duo has become quite popular with patients, residents and staff. “Many of the folks on VAU/SN look forward to seeing Max and enjoy his tricks,” said Dan. Twice a week you can find Dan and Max making the rounds at the hospital. “Patients might not remember Dan’s name, but they sure know Max’s,” said Marla Buresh, volunteer resources coordinator.

Max is famous for his tricks – giving a high five, waving and playing dead – and isn’t shy about performing. “The pediatric unit is Max’s favorite; he loves the kids,” said Dan, who carries treats that people offer as a reward to Max.

“It’s been a silver lining after my MS diagnosis,” said Dan.

Volunteering at Madonna has greatly impacted Dan’s life. It’s rewarding for him to see the resolve of patients and watch their recovery progress. “After I started visiting Madonna, I realized I don’t have it too bad,” said Dan. “Many of these patients have been through so much.”

It’s the relationships they establish that fulfill this Angel Dog team. Dan shares several stories of Max — trotting in front of a little girl and motivating her to pedal a tricycle faster, a brain injury patient who responded for the first time in months when Max laid his head on her bed. And, he can’t forget the patient who initially resisted a visit from lovable Max, saying, “I don’t want to see no darn dog!” Dan gently encouraged the man to pet Max and by the end of their visit, the patient stated firmly, “Now, you bring him back.” The patient began requesting visits and saving scraps of food for Max. People enjoy interacting with Max and often say it alleviates the stress of missing their own pet.

It’s been equally therapeutic for Dan. “I love making people smile and shining some light into their life,” said Dan, as he tenderly stroked Max’s head. His four-legged friend wagged his tail in agreement.

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Do you think your pet might be a good fit for Madonna’s Angel Dog Program? It only takes a few steps to find out. 

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