Amid the beeps heard around the pediatric unit at Mercy Hospital St. Louis, the sound of Deacon Lonnie Weishaar’s gentle knock on a patient’s door was a welcome reprieve.
“Would you like to see a therapy dog?” he asked.
Ten-year-old Audrey Hoffmann, who was at the hospital for a brief stay, welcomed Sadie, Deacon Weishaar’s 8-year-old Scottish Terrier, into her lap as the pup sniffed around getting to know her new friend.
This has been the routine for Sadie, Deacon Weishaar and his wife, Colette, for the past four years. Once a week, they volunteer to visit with patients at Mercy’s pediatric unit, offering something out of the ordinary from the routine of medical staff visits, vital checks and procedures. Sadie, who has undergone training as a therapy dog with Therapy Dogs International, previously has visited with patients at Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital in Chesterfield until the Weishaar’s began bringing Sadie to the Mercy Hospital ins Creve Coeur in January of 2019. Since coming to Mercy, Deacon Weishaar estimates he and Sadie have visited about 400 children.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I get more out of it than I give. When I see the children and the parents, just to break up the day and give them something else to think about besides focusing on the problems.”
At a recent visit with a 13-year-old patient, the girl told him, “‘this is the highlight of my life.’ I told her, ‘It’s the least I can do to help.’”
Deacon Weishaar and Colette, who will be married 50 years in April, are avid dog lovers. The two have trained several dogs for competition through Dog Sports at Kim’s in Caseyville, Ill. In fact, Sadie has earned the title of number one in agility among Scottish Terriers in the nation two years in a row through the American Kennel Club.
Transitioning from competition to therapy comes easy to Sadie, who loves visiting with patients, looking for any signs of leftover crumbs from a meal. Deacon Weishaar brings Sadie around in a stroller outfitted just for canines. Her reward at the end of each visit is a stop in front of the large saltwater aquarium in the pediatric unit to check out the fish.
Sadie, along with two other dogs — Keb, a 6-year-old St. Bernard, and Abby, a 22-month old golden retriever — provide a special companionship in the Weishaar home, which is welcomed by Colette Weishaar, especially on those evenings and weekends when Deacon Weishaar’s duties as a permanent deacon take him away from home.
Ordained in 1997, Deacon Weishaar served for 15 years at Immaculate Heart of Mary in New Melle, followed by two-and-a-half years at St. Robert Bellarmine in St. Charles. Five years ago, he was assigned to Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie, a parish he described as having “lots of opportunities” to be involved as a permanent deacon.
Beyond sacramental duties, Deacon Weishaar is working with seven people in the parish’s RCIA program, serves as an advocate for individuals seeking annulments, and presides at quite a few burials at cemeteries throughout the year. He’s also helping to start a bereavement support group at the parish in November.
Retired from full-time work at Boeing, and later as regional treasurer for the Congregation of the Mission, Deacon Weishaar now enjoys folding his love for dogs into a volunteer opportunity that brings a smile to others.
“I thoroughly enjoy seeing the children become excited about it,” he said.