During a home visit on Feb. 14, Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas Community Health Worker Robin Paulie sits with CHC/SEK patient Doyen Korth as he holds his dog, Ava.

Heart to Heart: Dog helps improve patient’s mental, heart health  

CHC/SEK patient Doyen Korth walks his new dog, Ava, outside of his home.

Ava, a terrier-chihuahua mix dog, plays a special part in Doyen Korth’s life, helping him improve his heart and mental health.   

Doyen, a patient of Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, has always loved dogs. When his significant other became ill and went on hospice services, he surrendered their pets and moved into the nursing home with her. Sadly, she passed away in February of 2023. Doyen moved to another assisted living following his partner’s passing.   

“He transitioned very well and is a favorite in his new community; he is mobile and enjoys the company of staff and residents and is always quick to be helpful in any way he can,” says Robin Paulie, CHC/SEK Community Health Worker (CHW). “I have always admired his simplistic approach to life and dealing with the twists and turns of his journey. His own health issues should be enough to cause discouragement at times, but he is endlessly cheerful and outgoing.”  

Right before the holidays, Robin noticed a change in Doyen.  

“A heartfelt conversation led to the tears he had been holding back,” she says. “We talked about behavioral health, grief, and things in general and came to the same conclusion; he really wanted a dog.”  

His provider, Brenda Brennan, APRN, happily provided a letter in support and the hunt was on. On Friday, Feb. 1, the Doyen met his match; a 12-year-old dog named Ava that the Happy Paws (that shelters and rehomes animals) staff had claimed as their own for two years since no one wanted to adopt her. Doyen took her home on a 7-day trial, and she exceeded expectations. Ava had obviously been “somebody’s baby” at some point in her life, and she and Doyen were instantly at home with each other.  

“She jumped right up on the couch beside him and wouldn’t leave his side,” Robin says.   

Doyen Korth displays the adoption paperwork for his new dog, Ava.

A few days after getting Ava, he called Robin to tell her Ava had “kissed” him awake.  

“She kissed me and woke me up,” he says. “I love it. It makes my blood pressure go down too.” He found out she does a neat trick. “Are you my baby girl? Tell me about it,” he asks Ava, and she starts making little howling noises that he calls “singing.”  

Doyen participates in the Healthy Heart Ambassador Program through CHC/SEK, a blood pressure self-monitoring program. He logs his blood pressure daily, and Robin comes in a few times a month to check on it.  

“A long time ago, we observed that when he held the cat up front (at the assisted living home), his blood pressure would be lower if he sat there and petted the cat before the nursing staff took his blood pressure,” Robin says. “So, we knew, my goodness, Doyen, if you get a dog, that’s just an added health benefit to having a pet.”  

He pointed to his chart and said, “They’re real low, too.”   

“He’s got some great numbers up there,” Robin agrees.  

Having Ava has exercise benefits, as he frequently takes her on walks. Others at the assisted living home also enjoy visiting with Ava.   

“Cindy would’ve loved her too,” Doyen says of his late partner of 20 years.   

Robin says she was glad to help Doyen connect with Ava, noting that she does many different things to meet patients’ needs, but pet adoption is quite unique and exciting.   

There was one more thing that made Doyen’s story much more special. On Friday, Feb. 9, the adoption was made official, Robin said, adding, “In a quiet moment of that busy afternoon, Doyen shared with me his most personal observation: he adopted his ‘Ava’ on the one-year anniversary of his loved one’s passing, and the saddest day passed instead with the joy of the little blessing she apparently sent his way.” 

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