“You know what dog spells backwards?” A man in a hospital elevator once asked Kim Maxey, retired school teacher and service dog mom. She had never thought about it, but it seemed obvious when he responded, “God.”

With Clifford, her current service dog, Kim is constantly in sensitive atmospheres, but she sees how much light dogs truly bring to those enduring hardships–from hospital visits to jail visits.

“They change the whole atmosphere of a room,” says Kim.

Kim got into training therapy dogs five years ago when she retired from the public school system with her former dog Scrappy. Although Scrappy is no longer with her, Clifford has been bringing joy to countless people since.

Clifford is involved with two therapy dog programs: Caring Canines and Dogs on Call. They schedule most visits for the same time every month, but some are on a more flexible schedule—like with our very own Evelyn D. Reinhart House, for example. The programs were selected from a trial and error process where Kim took Clifford to different places and decided where he liked to visit best.

Kim doesn’t want to stop with Clifford, either. She is currently training a 9-month-old puppy named Rudy. He has been a very good boy so far, passing his canine good citizen test. She plans to get him certified when he turns one and start to bring him around to visits with Clifford.

With Dogs on Call, a program under Virginia Commonwealth University, Clifford and Kim visit Stony Point Clinic and VCU’s Cancer Center.

With Caring Canines, Kim and Clifford are slightly more involved. They participate in a variety of programs including Reading 2 Rover at Richmond public libraries, Bon Secours Hospice House in Bon Air (since the building opened), Henrico Doctors on Parham (on the rehab floor), and Chesterfield County Jail Heart Program (addiction recovery with male and female inmates). Kim and Clifford also used to visit St. Mary’s Hospital (Pediatrics, Behavior, Rehab), but when they went through major renovations, the construction and noise was confusing and a little startling to Clifford so they stopped going there. Finally, of course, Kim and Clifford also volunteer at Evelyn D. Reinhart Guest House.

Kim and Clifford got involved with the Evelyn D. Reinhart House through Caring Canines Volunteer Services, who sent an email out asking if anyone would be interested in the Reinhart House. It worked well with Kim’s schedule, as evening visits are often easier. Since she started, she has been consistently coming back.

Clifford absolutely loves visiting the guest house because he gets to see the same people and make friends with some of the families that stay in the house on a more consistent basis.

Kim mentioned that Mary Good, Reinhart house volunteer, does a fantastic job coordinating visits and is sure to let her know when Clifford’s favorite guest is visiting. One little girl that comes regularly for services at St. Mary’s frequents the guest house, and Clifford and this little girl absolutely adore each other.

“He always licks her on the face, even though he isn’t supposed to,” Kim mentioned with a laugh, “but I won’t tell anyone he broke the rules.”

Reinhart House, Chesterfield County Jail, and Reading to Rover are different than Clifford’s other visits because they are more casual and relaxed, usually not requiring Clifford to move around as much. With hospitals, the visits are often sporadic and room-to-room, sometimes with few or no patients at all, but the hospital staff(s) still enjoy seeing Clifford regardless.

When asked why Kim enjoyed having a therapy dog so much, she said, “I get to share my dog with people. It’s pretty awesome.”

“We have had some pretty special moments,” Kim adds, with emotion in her voice. “It’s amazing what happens when you walk in the room with a dog. [It’s] really special.”

Clifford doing something as simple as licking the hand of a patient in bed can completely brighten an entire hospital visit for them.

Even if someone can’t reach or pet the dog, Kim mentions that dogs are the perfect distraction for patients and family members alike. People often have to leave their pets at home to get treatment–or worse–give them up completely due to their conditions and inability to take care of them. Sometimes they just can’t have them because they are traveling so much for treatments.

“The more I’m around dogs the less I like people,” one woman said to Kim, which made her laugh, though there is some truth in the statement that many can relate to.

Dogs exude unconditional love, and they don’t judge anyone no matter what they might be going through, providing a continuously positive energy no matter where they go. I think the man Kim met on the elevator was onto something–Dogs are certainly the most obvious example of God’s love manifested on earth.