Warm and fuzzy therapy is good medicine for cancer patients
Patients were treated with an unconventional medicine, Tuesday, April 30, at St. Joseph Hospital’s Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment in Orange.
The result? They reported feeling happy and upbeat, and they smiled a lot. They even said they looked forward to another dose.
Six sweet-tempered dogs got into the center’s elevator and rode up to the second floor, radiation/oncology, on National Therapy Animal Day, a day created by Pet Partners to “promote the health and wellness benefits of animal-assisted therapy, activities, and education.”
The pack moved slowly because everyone wanted to say hello. Volunteer Diana Rick said it once took her and her 6-year-old labradoodle Kirby 45 minutes just to get through the lobby.
Kirby has an American Kennel Club Good Citizen certificate only given to dogs who have passed a test and displayed “good manners at home and in the community.” He also was first in his class for dog obedience. “And we had some tough competition,” Rick said.
Doris Bachman of Irvine has been a patient at St. Joseph on and off since 2012. “They make me happy and calm,” she said of the dogs. “I would take them all home.”
Though she doesn’t claim a favorite, she said she has a spiritual connection with Kirby. After an operation, the 60-pound dog sat in a chair at her bedside.
“He was looking very prayerful. He was praying over me,” she said. He has also watched doctors work on her as if “he was making sure they did everything right,” she joked.
After visiting Bachman, Kirby moved on to Tim Phillips, who was there for a treatment.
“You have your own air-conditioner,” Bachman pointed out, as Kirby’s tail wagged nonstop.
Nurses momentarily stopped their work to wave and shout greetings. “Lexie and Fluffy and Barney, come over here,” said nurse Kathleen Majeski. “It’s like puppy heaven. Our team gets as excited as our patients do.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have shown the bond between people and pets can increase fitness, lower stress and bring increased happiness, St. Joseph officials said. They also can expedite recovery.
Self-described “cat lady” Barbara Wunderle, who once had pictures of her 13 cats hanging at the end of her bed, seemed to light up the most when Lexie, a 17-pound Maltese, snuggled next to her. She first met the dogs more than two years ago when she inquired about them.
“Do you want the dogs to visit? Most people don’t,” she was told.
“Get. Out. Yes,” she said.
Patient Sarah Haynes said she now has second thoughts about saying no to her two boys, ages 9 and 11, who have been begging for a dog. “We’ve always had a fish,” she said. “Last week we gave in and got a hamster.”
But Barney, a basset hound-mix with a contorted front paw from his previous life as a stray, rested his head on her chair while she received treatment. “This makes me happy,” Haynes said. “It makes me want a dog.”
As the dogs completed their work for the day and were preparing to leave, 86-year-old Evabeth Snow spied them from across a waiting area. “This has been a special day, seeing all of you,” she said with a smile that didn’t seem to fade.
“They are angels with fur.”