Juma, the 121-pound dog, brings happiness to the halls of hospital

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Weighing in at 121 pounds, Juma the dog is using every ounce to make patients' days just a little brighter.

Juma, with handler for the day Kelly O'Connell, while on her shift with Pet Partners at UnityPoint St. Luke's (JACKIE KENNON/KCRG).

“Some people refer to Juma as the wolf dog, or the bear dog,” said Angela Berns, UnityPoint-St. Luke’s volunteer services manager.

The name Juma means ‘born on a Friday,’ according to her handler for the day, Kelly O’Connell. It’s a Friday-like atmosphere the Leonberger dog brings to halls of the hospital any day she visits.

“Her favorite job is volunteering at St. Luke’s, making people smile, kids, staff, adults, everybody,” said O’Connell. “You can see calming effects right away.”

She's one member of a fourteen pet therapy team, Pet Partners, which also includes a cat.

“Our littlest team member is a corgi, and then Juma is our biggest, there are standard poodles, labs retrievers, a Doberman, all shapes and sizes,” said Berns.

Juma has tallied up more than a thousand hours of service in her five years of volunteering with Pet Partners.

Hours spent helping out little girls like Hanna, a young hospital patient, or checking in with the medical staff.

“You can just see both of them, the human and the animal, just kind of sinking into that moment of, 'it's just you and me,' kind of thing, and it's really beautiful,” said Berns.

Pet Pals started in the 80s with dogs from the humane society.
Today, it's still making a difference.

“The dog will start the conversation,” said O’Connell. “Then it gets the patient's mind off why they're there, why they don't feel good, and it just gives them something positive and happy to focus on, even if it's just for a couple of minutes.”