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Finding Minnesota: Dusty The Volunteer Dog

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A nursing home in western Minnesota is honoring an unexpected volunteer.

Dusty, a shih tzu dog, was recognized as the March volunteer of the month at Johnson Memorial Health Services.

"I think he gives a lot of people comfort," said Diane Seefeld, Dusty's owner. "He's probably the hardest working volunteer we've got."

The staff believes that Dusty has the compassion and dedication that make a good volunteer. Several times a week, the dog makes the rounds at the nursing home in Dawson, Minnesota.

His introduction to the staff and residents began 11 years ago when Seefeld welcomed the shih tzu pup into her life and started taking him into work with her.

"He got acclimated here almost immediately," Seefeld said.

The staff welcomed Dusty knowing the positive impact a dog could have on the residents.

"Just having that connection with Dusty is sometimes probably what someone looks forward to the whole day," said Gail Schlimme, the activities director at Johnson Memorial Health Services.

However, no one could predict the effect the residents would have on Dusty. Seefeld now works part time, but the dog gets dropped off even when she's not working.

"This is where he likes to be," Seefeld said. "He's run away from home, and this is where he ends up."

When Dusty shows up for duty, he shares his love with as many people as possible. However, a chosen few get the bulk of his attention.

"I don't know why I was lucky enough to have him pick me, but he did," said Bonnie Hersom, a resident at Johnson Memorial.

For Hersom, the hours with Dusty make the recovery from a motorcycle accident a little easier. Dusty usually spends a few hours each day laying on her lap or by her side.

"I love having him come in and lay with me," Hersom said.

She is paralyzed from the neck down and the dog gives her motivation to heal.

"Someday, I hope to be able to pet him," Hersom said.

During Dusty's shifts, his work is never finished. Between visits with the residents, the dog busies himself with other duties.

The mail run is among his favorite activities. He travels through the entire building on the bottom of a cart as workers drop off the mail.

"It's something he enjoys," Seefled said. "That way, he gets an opportunity to see the residents too as we deliver the mail."

Over the years, Dusty has learned the ins and outs of the care center making his final act each day more endearing.

As Seefeld prepares to leave for work she calls for the dog over the intercom, telling him to run to either the nurses station or the activity room. No matter where he is in the building, he knows the difference in the two locations.

While he may seem excited to leave, he's just as excited to return the next day.

"He's really loved up here," Seefeld said. "He probably gets more love here than at home."

At 11 years old, Dusty is starting to slow down and Diane knows there will come a time in the near future that he can't work at the nursing home.

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