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Fox Chapel

Aspinwall youth minister creates special time between vets and pets

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 9:51 a.m.
Jamie Dillon, youth minister at St. Scholastica in Aspinwall, takes teens each month to visit patients at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System in O'Hara. Four dogs also make the trip: Ethel, Penny Lane, which are owned by Dillon. Jake owned by the Powell family and Tanner is owned by the Casey family.
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Jamie Dillon, youth minister at St. Scholastica in Aspinwall, takes teens each month to visit patients at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System in O'Hara. Four dogs also make the trip: Ethel, Penny Lane, which are owned by Dillon. Jake owned by the Powell family and Tanner is owned by the Casey family.

Aspinwall youth minister Jamie Dillon insists that her Golden Retrievers, Ethel and Penny Lane, can sense when she's packing them up to visit the Heinz campus of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System in O'Hara.

“They love it,” said Dillon, director of religious education at St. Scholastica. “They can tell when I'm getting things ready, and they get really excited.”

Dillon has been making the trip for two decades to the veterans hospital off Delafield Road. About 10 teens join her each month for pet therapy, where they walk from room to room sharing smiles and small talk.

The visits spark conversation, break monotony and create joy.

“The veterans enjoy interacting with the dogs,” Dillon said. “Being in the hospital can be very mundane and lonely. Sometimes the patients play ball, and sometimes they just pet the dogs.”

The appreciation goes both ways.

The teens get as much out of the visits as they put in, youth group member Emily Shelestack said.

“I like the whole experience because it's cool to see the veterans and the dogs interact with each other,” said Emily, a freshman at Fox Chapel Area High School.

“I like the smiles on their faces when the dogs come.”

Dillon said the teens enjoy hearing stories about the veterans' time in service. The patients, she said, are “like a living page out of history.”

Junior Sarah Rabbit said pet therapy gives her the chance to give back.

“I like to connect with those who did amazing things for our country,” Sarah said.

For more, contact Dillon at jamiedillon@saintscholastica.com.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. Reach her at 412-782-2121, ext. 2, tpanizzi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tawnyatrib.

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