Paws for a Cause: Therapy dog making an impact at UnitedHealthcare — and beyond

Courtney Schauder and her 7-year-old golden retriever, Ernie, are a prime example of taking a passion and turning it into purpose.

Courtney, a registered dietitian who joined UnitedHealthcare as a health engagement consultant earlier this year, supports members in Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas. In her free time, you'll likely find Courtney giving back to her Charlotte community with Ernie, her certified therapy dog, leading the way.

Courtney's mental and behavioral health background made her realize the benefits therapy animals can bring to patients struggling during treatment. According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, therapy dogs, like Ernie, help reduce emotional and behavioral outbursts and improve overall socialization for patients in a hospital setting. They can help decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness, lift spirits, and reduce anxiety and depression. Other benefits exhibited by patients who work with therapy dogs include:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Diminished physical pain
  • Increased calming endorphins, like oxytocin

Courtney and Ernie started their work together in 2017 after Ernie completed individual and group training and passed his Therapy Dog International certification. From supporting patients at a local eating disorder treatment center, visiting hospitals like Atrium Health Mercy, providing stress relief to college students during exam week and working with the Charlotte Library's Paws to Read program, Ernie and Courtney are spreading the positive impact of therapy dogs in the Charlotte community.

Now that Courtney and Ernie are part of the UnitedHealthcare team, they can continue their volunteer work with the organization's support. UnitedHealth Group's United for Giving program helps employees make a more significant impact when donating time or money to causes and communities they care about most. Employees like Courtney can earn cash rewards for every hour volunteered, and UnitedHealth Group also provides a 1:1 contribution match for donations made to eligible charities.

Ernie also has made an impact at UnitedHealthcare itself. In July, Courtney and Ernie traveled to Atlanta to meet UnitedHealthcare’s account management team in Georgia as a team-building mental health activity. The duo also participated in the Employee Engagement Committee's well-being activity for the health strategies team, presenting the benefits of animals for physical and mental wellness.

At both UnitedHealthcare and beyond, Ernie and Courtney are making an impact to improve mental and behavioral health. Courtney's continued work with underserved communities and individuals suffering mental health issues reinforces the importance of her volunteer work with therapy dogs.

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