Monday, February 04, 2013 is World Cancer Day. Patients in and around Chicagoland, especially those being treated at institutions like the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University in Chicago or Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood or Edward Hospital in Naperville can attest to the importance of therapy dogs and the role that the canines play in their treatment programs.
Planet Dog Foundation out of Portland, Maine, also recognizes the significance of therapy dogs and the role that they play in making a difference in cancer patients’ lives. The dogs are all evaluated to make certain that they have the right stuff. The right stuff just happens to include being serious about their task at hand.
Therapy dogs go through approximately two years of training and begin that training when they are just a few months old. Although it is very tempting to want to go up and meet a therapy dog, the dogs are taught not to interact as a typical pet normally would. The dogs need to focus their efforts and concern on the sick patients.
The dogs that visit Lurie are a part of the animal-assisted therapy program that was launched with the Canine Therapy Corps in Chicago. The dogs in this program visit those patients undergoing cancer treatments, palliative care and those in hospice.
Dogs have a tendency to brighten a person’s day and, at least temporarily, direct their mind in a more positive direction. The patients just have more to look forward to once the dog arrives; moods are enhanced as well as their well-being.
Therapy dogs began being utilized more when there were significantly noticeable health improvements (like lower blood pressure when a patient was able to pet the animal) when a canine was present in a patient’s life. Some of what Northwestern discovered was decreased hospital stays, less confusion, significantly decreased depression and pain was more manageable.
It is especially important to patients that miss their own pets when they are able to be visited by the therapy dogs. It fills the hole and decreases the longing for the unconditional love that only an animal can provide.
For patients that are unable to have the dog enter their room because they cannot have a compromised immune system, the dogs will still take the time to visit the patients – if even just to look through the doorway at the patient. That goes for the children at Loyola University Medical Center, too. They even have a playroom where the dogs can accompany the children besides visiting children in their individual rooms.
Therapy dogs work hard to make certain that the patients’ at Edwards Hospital feel loved, safe and secure and as happy as they can possibly be in the hospital; putting a “touch of home” into their stay. A variety of dogs and handlers have visited greater than 130,000 patients over a 10-year span of time. These dogs truly make a difference.
So, today, World Cancer Day, don’t forget to thank a therapy dog if you happen to see one.