Pet therapy spreads ‘puppy love’ |

Pet therapy spreads ‘puppy love’

Paul Raymore
Josh Miller / Tribune News Service Sharon Dewberry enjoys the company of Eddie the therapy dog at the Truckee Donner Senior Center.

Unlike some, Buddy gets excited at the mere prospect of going to work. That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering he and his colleagues, Eddie and Dylan, are naturally qualified for their job – spreading doggy love.

Since 1997, volunteers with the Pet Assisted Therapy Program at Truckee’s Tahoe Forest Hospital have been helping to include animal interaction into the healing process for patients in the Extended Care Center.

“Every patient that gets visited by the dogs, their faces just light up,” says Carol McNamara, who along with Karine Wagner, co-founded the Pet Assisted Therapy Program. “It’s very rewarding to see them smile and for some of the patients it just makes their day.”

In 2000, the success of the program in the Extended Care Center led hospital staff to extend the range of the therapy dogs to the Medical/Surgical unit, the Children’s Center and the Hospice and Home Health programs at the hospital. And now, with the help of one of the volunteers in the program, residents at the Truckee Donner Senior Apartments have been able to share in the doggy love as therapy dogs have started making the rounds at the Senior Center as well.

With almost 20 human volunteers and even more therapy dogs in the program, which is sponsored by the Humane Society of Truckee Tahoe and hospital nurses, health care professionals are thrilled to see the beneficial effects the dogs have on their patients.

Wellness is a warm puppy

McNamara points to research that shows that interaction with animals can significantly improve the physical and emotional well being of a patient. Plus, so many Truckee residents are used to having pets of their own that seeing the therapy dogs in the hospital can bring a little bit of normalcy into the recovery room.

And while the dogs bring joy to the patients, McNamara gives a lot of credit to the volunteers who are willing to take time out of their day to share their pets with others.

“Not only are we in a position to give back to the community but we get to share that with our beloved pets,” she says.

That ability to share a bit of her career with her dog was what led Tahoe Forest Hospital staff nurse Karen Aaron to start bringing Buddy, a six-year-old Bichon Frise, to the hospital.

“I took Buddy, when I got him, to one of the trainers who was involved with the pet therapy program at the time, and Buddy is such a lovable dog that I thought he would be great because he’s small and happy and a great dog to pet,” Aaron says. “It’s fun for me to come to the hospital in a capacity other than as a nurse.”

Aaron has witnessed firsthand the effect that Buddy has on patients in the hospital – especially when he breaks out his dance moves.

“There was one older lady who was pretty confused, and when he started dancing,” she just smiled. “And that is what makes you want to come back. It’s about making people smile and making their day a little bit different than just getting out of bed or struggling to get through the day.”

Highly qualified

Buddy was a natural for the job, Aaron says, because he is cute and can easily fit on a patient’s bed. But becoming a therapy dog isn’t as easy as simply showing up at the hospital and making the rounds.

Dogs in the Humane Society’s Pet Assisted Therapy Program must have impeccable manners and must pass all 10 criteria for the difficult Canine Good Citizens Award to qualify.

Once a dog qualifies though, many of the volunteers say their dogs just love going to the hospital with a job to do.

“When we drive up to Extended Care he (Buddy) can hardly wait to get out of the car. He knows what we’re doing, he knows where we’re going and he’s tugging on the leash the whole way,” Aaron says.

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