JACKSONIVLLE, Fla. -

They are furry. They are friendly. And these pups are on a mission!

Each week, Sunday, a golden-doodle, visits the Mayo Clinic Radiation Oncology waiting room in Jacksonville. His job is to cheer up everyone he meets.

Diane Parisi’s husband is having spinal surgery. She was feeling sad and nervous before Sunday walked in. 

“He just turned my, it’s almost cliché, but he turned my frown to a smile,” said Parisi.

Sunday’s owner, Kristi Leonard, says her pooch lifts moods every day.

“Literally, the way peoples’ faces light up. If they’re just walking along and they see the dog, and it’s just like a breath of fresh air,” said Leonard, who is the Service Chair of the Caring Canines Program at Mayo Clinic, Florida.

Dogs don’t just make people feel better, they also have health benefits.

Interacting with man’s best friend can lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety, and improve lung function. One study showed heart attack patients with dogs were eight-times more likely to be alive a year later.

“It really changes the whole feeling of an exam room when the dogs come in,” said Nancy Skaran, Administrator of the Caring Canines Program at Mayo Clinic, Florida.

Zoe also visits patients and their families. Her owner takes time off work to volunteer. 

“It’s just the most incredible feeling I’ve ever had,” said Linda Gibson.

They take their work seriously, but when the day’s done even the mightiest mutts get, well, dog tired.

The Caring Canines Program at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville is run by volunteers. They currently have 18 dogs and owners that participate.

To qualify, the dogs have to be trained, evaluated, and registered with Pet Partners, a national organization and must also be up to date on their shots.

The Caring Canines Program’s mission is to bring happiness and comfort to those in need. Their passion for dogs has led them to gather volunteers to spread the love from the dogs to others. They believe it is imperative to have the emotional support when in a time of crisis or healing. The Caring Canines Program serves to assisted living centers and nursing homes, hospitals, hospice care, and libraries. Volunteer dogs are required to be tested under the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen certification and must have their shots up to date.

For more information about The Caring Canines Program at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, you can contact Kristin Leonard at (904) 953-6737 or leonard.kristin@mayo.edu.