KATY (FOX 26) - Katy residents are benefiting from a K-9 team established by a former Houston police homicide detective, but her K9s aren't doing police work.
"Would you like a visit from the therapy dog?" the former detective asks before she enters a hospital room.
Sharon Evans is a welcome visitor in Memorial Hermann's Katy Hospital, but it's her dog, Gracie, who is the star of the show.
Evans and Gracie are a pet therapy team that brightens peoples' days wherever they go. Evans founded Tender Loving K9s 9 years ago, and now has more than a dozen pet therapy teams volunteering in her organization.
"We just feel privileged to join all of our dogs who are doing all the work," Evans tells Fox26. "We bring them here to let people enjoy them."
Evans retired from the Houston Police Department in 2005. She was on the force 31 years, and a homicide investigator for her last 23. She found a new mission in life when her granddaughter was born with special needs, and pet therapy was one of the ways to help her. Surprisingly enough, Evans says some of the detective skills do carry over.
"I'm just talking to people now for different reasons and in a different way, but it's the same thing," she explains. "It's communicating with strangers. Getting them to talk to me. and me to talk to them."
The pet handlers at Tender Loving K9s don't need detective training, of course. But the dogs all need pet therapy certification. Among other requirements, they must demonstrate how they are calm and comfortable meeting strangers.
"Every breed can be a therapy dog," Evans says. "It's more the nature they are born with, and how their handler handles them in their first year."
"We absolutely love our pet therapy program," says Heather Rojas, Volunteer Coordinate at Memorial Hermann Katy. "It is truly beneficial for our patients. It just provides that extra peace that maybe comforts them, brings their anxiety level down, or reminds them of their dogs at home."
Rojas says the dogs also give a boost to hospital staff.
"Our staff really needs that de-stresser during the day," Rojas says. "The pets come in and just brighten the day for everybody.
Tender Loving K9s serves hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and even disaster response events, mostly in Katy. Evans says it's a public service, and her calling, that brings her rewards every day.