“Sadie spreads smiles” leads the pack in fundraising for MUSC PAWS program on Giving Tuesday

Melissa Varner
October 20, 2023
An animal therapy volunteer in a red shirt and a canine volunteer in a red bandana kneel in a yard in front of a fence.

Sadie, a beautiful white Great Pyrenees, is a certified therapy dog on the PAWS (patient animal wellness service) team at MUSC. Her handler (and dog mom), Kate Wagner, says Sadie loves their weekly visits to Ashley River Tower.

“I can't even put on my red volunteer polo until I'm ready to go,” Kate said. “Because when she sees me put that on, she starts spinning around the house and chasing her tail and getting really excited.”

It’s a rare burst of energy for 8-year-old Sadie. Like most Pyrenees, Sadie is calm and gentle – qualities Kate knew would make her the perfect therapy dog. Before volunteering at MUSC, every dog must be tested and evaluated by a nationally accredited therapy animal organization. Sadie was certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs in 2021, about a year after Kate adopted her from a local rescue. The two have been volunteering at MUSC ever since.

One of Sadie’s first “jobs” as a certified therapy dog was at one of MUSC’s vaccine clinics for children.

The PAWS team services all four hospitals in Charleston and more than 12 ambulatory clinics throughout the Lowcountry. A visit from a PAWS team like Sadie and Katie can be requested by patients, family members, administrators, and medical staff.

Photos of some of the certified therapy dogs that volunteer at MUSC. 
PAWS volunteer photos on a new display wall that Giving Tuesday donors helped fund.

“Sometimes it's a quick visit just and other times, it ends up being a 45-minute visit, especially if it's someone whose family isn't close by,” Kate explains. “It's nice to be able to chat with them while they get to pet Sadie.”

Sadie and Kate are also part of a special team of PAWS volunteers who are on call to support the Charleston City Police department through a tragedy or community crisis. She says they were called in to provide comfort in May, when Police Chief Luther Reynolds announced he was ending his cancer treatment and entering hospice care.

Bearing witness to these moments is tough, but worth it, Kate says. “Seeing Sadie bring a smile to someone’s face, even when they’re having the roughest time – I think that’s the most rewarding part for me.”

While a PAWS team visit is not covered by insurance, their services are free to patients because of the volunteers and donors who make it possible. Money raised for the program helps cover additional training and supplies for the 89 PAWS teams. It also helps pay for special events, like the annual Blessing of the Dogs.

In 2022, Kate and Sadie also volunteered to fundraise for the MUSC PAWS program on Giving Tuesday, a global day of giving. Their team, “Sadie spreads smiles,” was the top fundraiser for the PAWS program, raising nearly $1,300 from family and friends. In all, Giving Tuesday fundraisers and supporters raised more than $5,000 for the PAWS program.

A display wall shows photos of more than 80 certified therapy dogs that volunteer at MUSC.
A new display wall in University Hospital features PAWS team members.

That was enough to support two special projects: a display wall featuring photos of PAWS volunteers and an outdoor statue that will serve as a memorial to MUSC therapy dogs who have crossed the rainbow bridge.

This year, Giving Tuesday, which falls on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, is coming up Nov. 28. Will “Sadie Spreads Smiles” lead the pack again?

“Absolutely,” Kate says.