Paws & Hearts

For nearly two decades, Richard Waxman and his team of volunteers and their therapy dogs have been spreading joy to local hospitals, long-term care facilities and senior care centers. But the real credit, he says, belongs to his dog Lucky.

It’s been 19 years since the duo made their first visit to a local nursing. Lucky, though just a puppy, made a huge impact on the residents, sparking the local paper to write a human-interest story. “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” Richard says with a laugh. While the spunky poodle-terrier mix has been gone for eight years, his legacy lives on. “Lucky is the true founder,” Richard insists. “If it weren’t for him, Paws & Hearts would have never happened.”

The non-profit has grown since those early days. Now, seven days a week, the organization’s 35 teams of volunteers and their four-legged “Canine Ambassadors” make the rounds to care facilities all over California’s Coachella Valley. Together, they work to fulfill Paws & Hearts mission, enriching the lives of frail and special care cases by spreading the unconditional love that only a furry healer can provide.

Richard says the benefits are clear. He’s seen animals motivate people to participate in their therapies, brighten patients’ days and spark conversations about the animals in their lives. He’s also found the visits can have long lasting effects, recalling a chance meeting with one such man, who remembered Richard and Lucky from hospital visits two years prior. “The gentleman said he’d been terribly ill, but when Lucky curled up on his chest, he couldn’t believe how much better he felt,” Richard explains. “He went on to say that he worked hard to get better, so he could see us the following week.”

It’s stories like those that keep Richard and all the volunteers at Paws & Hearts coming back each week. “We make thousands of bedside visits every year,” Richard says. “When we hear things like ‘you made my day’ or ‘I waited all week to see you,’ you know you’ve made a difference for the person you can to visit.”