Therapy Dogs Honored For Comforting Hospital Patients
Advocate Lutheran General throws a luncheon to recognize dogs and owners who bring encouragement, or just smiles, to patients in five hospital units.
Fourteen gentle, friendly therapy dogs elicited a lot of "awws" and petting of heads Tuesday as their owners gathered for a luncheon at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.
Magda Scanlan, the hospital's manager of volunteer services, praised the volunteers for bringing smiles, relaxation and moments of comfort to very sick patients.
Susan Burrows, who organizes 150 therapy dog programs in Chicago-area hospitals, libraries and schools in her role as program coordinator for Rainbow Assisted Animal Therapy of Morton Grove, in turn praised the hospital, saying, "From the very beginning, the staff and the hospital have always 'gotten' what the dogs could accomplish."
Rainbow has been operating programs in five units at Lutheran General, in Park Ridge near Niles, including doing all the training of the dogs and their owners, since the hospital started doing animal therapy five years ago.
Easing patients' pain
Each of the 11 volunteers took turns telling their experiences with the dogs and the patients. One was working with a female patient who dreaded using a walker, but once she got a chance to walk the dog down the hallway with it, her resistance decreased. Another told of the stroke patients who managed a smile when her dog came to visit them.
Yet another told of a dog who had had a leg amputated after a bout with cancer, and how he inspired human patients.
Still another patient, a stroke victim, would not hold a fork to eat, but had fun using a fork to feed green beans to one of the dogs.
'Makes their tears go away'
"We were fortunate to get in the adolescent (units)," said Dawn Kahn of Mundelein, who volunteers with her husband Ed and dogs Thelma and Louise.
"They take to the dogs. It's an experience that's overwhelming."
Terri Mix of Park Ridge and her King Charles Cavalier spaniel, Daisy Mae, work with a therapist in the geriatric and psychiatric units.
"She (the therapist) always asks them their mood before we come, and usually it's a two or three (on a 10-point scale)," Mix said. "Daisy Mae makes their tears go away."
Patients always rate their moods higher after the canine visit, she said, sometimes only by a point or two, but one patient once registered a 15.
A dog while dying
Hardly anyone, human or animal, in the room made a sound when Burrows told her story: "The most touching, transcending blessing we ever had working in peds (pediatrics) was with a boy dying of leukemia. He wanted to die holding a dog," she said, her voice breaking.
"That taught me the dogs are here for a reason that transcends anything I could imagine."
Presents for the dogs
The mood lightened up after Scanlan brought out wrapped presents for the dogs, scattering them on the floor.
The dogs looked inquisitively at them, but sat still until their owners, holding them on leashes, walked them to the gifts and coaxed them to select one. Some of the dogs put their paws on one of the packages--which turned out to contain squeaky dog toys.
Dogs visit libraries, schools, too
Besides their work visiting patients in hospitals, some Rainbow-trained dogs and their owners also volunteer at the Niles Library, the Morton Grove Library, the Des Plaines Library and other libraries, said Barb Lulias, who recruits people from Rainbow to volunteer at Lutheran General.
Some dogs and their people also volunteer at schools for handicapped children, including Park Ridge-Niles School District 64's Jefferson School, in Niles, she said.
Want your dog to become a therapy dog? Stay tuned to Patch to learn how.