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It's no surprise that people love dogs. They offer a calming and relaxing experience, which is why the Amerman Family Foundation Dog Therapy Program has made such a big impact on our patients. Therapy dog, Harriet, and owner, Jenna, share with us just how far that impact can go.
Harriett and I were finishing the day’s visits and getting ready to head out, when we heard the familiar call from about 10 feet away. "DOG!" Naturally, we popped over to say hi to the source. The patient, a girl of about 12, was in a spinal halo. (Just like a cast protects a broken arm, a halo helps to protect the spines of kids recovering from spinal surgery.) The metal ring of her halo had been “bedazzled” with colorful beads and it was clear that she had been wearing it for awhile. She was definitely interested in seeing Harriett, but because of the position her halo kept her in while in bed, she couldn’t see the dog very well. The girl’s parents and two nurses were also in the room, and I mentioned that we’d dealt with a situation like this previously by letting the dog be on the bed while the patient was in her wheelchair, so they could look at each other at eye level. The girl was enthusiastic about this plan, to the surprise of her nurses, so they all worked together to move the patient into her wheelchair, a complicated process that involved weights and adjustments to her halo. Meanwhile, I got Harriett up on the patient’s bed, and positioned her close to the edge and within easy reach. Once the wheelchair was turned to face Harriett, the girl lost interest in everyone else in the room and began talking and offering treats to Harriett. She wanted her parents to take her photo with Harriett, and she wanted to show Harriett photos of her dogs at home. After several minutes, the girl asked her mom to pass her a children’s book. The girl then proceeded to read, “Go, Dog, Go!” to Harriett. She tuned the rest of us out, and focused completely on Harriett, like she was reading to a small child at bedtime. She held the book open and facing Harriett, so Harriett could see all the pictures clearly. After a while, the lull of the reading worked on Harriett, who fell asleep. The patient didn’t care, she just kept reading aloud. As we were leaving, one of the nurses let us know that despite doctor’s orders to get out of bed and into her wheelchair, the girl usually resisted and refused to make the move. Everyone was thrilled that she was willing to get into her wheelchair for us. After that visit, the girl made a sign for her door that read, “All Dogs Welcome Here.”