Meet POOCH Volunteer Team Max and Mark

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POOCH Volunteers Max and Mark

Looking at him, Max might seem small. But the 8-pound toy poodle is making a big difference to patients at Cedars-Sinai.

As dedicated members of the Barbara Cowen POOCH Volunteer Program, Max and his owner Mark Friedman provide emotional comfort and unconditional love to patients and families in need of a little extra support.

“I love to see the impact Max makes on patients and nurses.”

Max is one of 36 dogs enrolled in the POOCH program and at 18 years old, he’s the oldest canine volunteer.

Mark and his wife, Sharon Friedman, rescued Max when he was about 5 years old. They could tell the newest member of their family was special, but it wasn’t until their veterinarian suggested Max become a therapy dog that they realized he could make a big impact on people’s lives.

“Our vet suggested Max become a therapy dog because his temperament is very mellow,” says Mark. “Max makes people feel comforted and he’s affectionate—plus he’s cute!”

And it’s not just patients who enjoy POOCH visits. Many employees look forward to “Max time” when they see the pair walking the hallways of the medical center.

“When he wears his volunteer bandana, he knows he’s on duty. He’s ready to go to the medical center.”

“I love to see the impact Max makes on patients and nurses,” says Mark. “It’s really a chance for staff to decompress during a stressful shift.”

Before dogs can join the program, which launched in 1992, both the dogs and their humans complete a rigorous screening process.

After their humans are interviewed by Volunteer Coordinator Camille Camello-Zendejas, the dogs must pass health screenings, demonstrate obedience skills, and get certification from Pet Partners. Then dogs can start visiting patients.

Mark and Max became POOCH volunteers 6 years ago, but Mark has been volunteering his time for much longer. He’s volunteered at numerous organizations over the years and is currently donating his time to 6 other organizations in addition to Cedars-Sinai. The retired fundraising executive and consultant says volunteering is in his DNA.

“I’ve always volunteered in one way or another,” says Mark. “It’s one of the Jewish principles—we adhere to the notion that we are our brother’s keeper. Giving back is part of my values.”

Volunteering runs deep in the humans of the Friedman family and Mark says Max loves volunteering, too.

“When he wears his volunteer bandana, he knows he’s on duty. He’s ready to go to the medical center.”

“Patients get an opportunity to forget about what they’re going through for a short time, but this sticks with us for a long time. We get to help people who are facing serious issues.”

During each of his twice-monthly shifts, Max visits about 15 patients and their families.

Mark recalls one patient visit that was especially meaningful to him. He and Max were asked to visit an elderly patient who wasn’t expected to make it through the day. She wasn’t able to say goodbye to her own dog, so she wanted to say goodbye to a POOCH.

“She hugged and petted Max,” remembers Mark. “It was lovely to see. Those things really stay with you.”

Mark says it’s moments like this that truly matter.

“Patients get an opportunity to forget about what they’re going through for a short time, but this sticks with us for a long time,” Mark says. “We get to help people who are facing serious issues.”


Are you interested in joining the POOCH program? Learn more.

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