Hospitalized for severe depression, Gayle F. looked forward to spending time with her “therapists,” who coaxed her back to health with non-judgmental support, frisky good humor and occasional wet kisses.
For Rocket, bringing smiles to people in need is her job as a therapy dog.
Owned by Patricia DeMeo of Wellesley, the bright-eyed mini-pinscher is one of 37 dogs providing “therapy on a leash” in MetroWest Medical Center’s pet therapy program.
Discharged from the hospital a week ago, Gayle F., a 30-ish MetroWest resident who asked not to be identified, described those several-times-a-week, half-hour sessions with Rocket, Katie Bear and a giant Great Dane nicknamed Libby as “bright spots that provided light during a really tough time.”
“I was very sick. I felt I was fighting for my life. Just sitting on the floor playing with Rocket and the others was the highlight of my week. I can’t describe how valuable it was to getting back on my feet. Spending time with therapy dogs was instrumental in my ability to pull through,” she said.
About three years ago, DeMeo enrolled Rocket as as a therapy dog at the hospital as a way to return the kindness and support her late parents received at a cancer hospice.
She said therapy dogs must learn at least a dozen task-specific commands, such as leaving treats or potentially dangerous objects they might encounter in a hospital, and moving carefully around patients using walkers or wheelchairs without being startled by sharp noises like dropping bedpans.
Throughout about 200 visits to the hospital and area nursing homes, DeMeo said Rocket has demonstrated an intuitive understanding of patients’ varied needs.
“Dogs sense things humans don’t. One patient might want Rocket to sit in her lap. Someone else might want kisses. Someone else might just want to touch her or talk about the dogs they used to own. Everyone wants something different. But Rocket just seems to know what they need,” she said.
Sherri Hebert, administrative assistant in the behavioral medicine department who coordinates the pet therapy program, said the hospital has been using therapy dogs since 2002 to boost patients’ spirits, encourage interaction and reduce stress.
Accompanied by an owner, therapy dogs visit the hospital’s child development unit and behavioral medicine department, which includes geriatric and adult units. A dog owner who’s enrolled her Pembroke Welsh corgi, Katie Bear, in the program, Hebert said individual dogs might make 30-minute visits to different units four to eight times a week, including weekends and evenings.
Director of Behavioral Medicine Mary Mullany said anecdotal evidence suggests spending time with therapy dogs can elevate patients’ moods, lower blood pressure and relieve stress among patients and staff.
“We’ve seen patients with dementia calm down, and a man, almost immobilized by depression for several years, begin to communicate. With geriatric patients, I think spending time with therapy dogs can promote verbal skills. When therapy dogs come into a hospital setting, it’s a time patients can laugh and enjoy themselves,” she said.
That’s no surprise to Susan Piraino, whose 135-pound Great Dane Liberty – nicknamed Libby – visits several hospital units, cheering up children as well as older patients who have diminishing communication skills.
The Ashland resident is convinced Libby “absolutely senses” the different needs of children, elderly and emotionally troubled patients.
And while Libby reaches her waist, Piraino said her personality is so placid she never snaps with roughhousing children or gets startled by unexpected noises.
Like several other owners, she said Libby becomes excited by the prospect of a hospital visit, signified when a special bandanna is wrapped around her neck. “She’s ecstatic when she gets in the car to come here,” said Piraino.
For several years, Pat Gipp has been bringing Penny, an alert Australian shepherd, to the hospital and hospice where patients nearing the ends of their lives seem comforted by stroking her coat.
The Holliston resident said Penny has entertained young patients by accepting high-fives and playing soccer with them.
Her voice turning serious, she recalled being asked to bring Penny to an area hospice where a dying patient had slipped into a coma. Without prompting, Penny laid next to him.
Three other dog owners nodded.
Stroking her Great Dane, Piraino said, “Love is the best medicine you can give.”…. story taken from… Norwich Bulletin.. read story… http://www.norwichbulletin.com/lifestyles/pets/x1510863501/Canine-Compassion-Therapy-dogs-bring-smiles-to-people-in-need#axzz1UyEKhgSK