Canines might just be the cure

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald file photo

Gail Gardner often brings Nellie, left, a papillon, to Mercy Regional Medical Center as a therapy dog. Oprah, Nellie’s 14-year-old companion, is now retired.

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

The dog, long a home and hunting companion, is proving to be a friend to patients in the hospital as well.

Dog owners and their pets visit Mercy Regional Medical Center four times a week under the Mercy Super Dogs program to comfort in-patients who want to see them. Classes to train new dogs and their owners begin Tuesday.

“They lighten the moment for patients and staff,” said Gail Gardner, a dog trainer and the principal of It’s All About the Dog. “They can take away a moment of a hospital stay, and some patients simply miss their own dog.”

Gardner, an evaluator for Therapy Dogs International, certifies the dogs that visit Mercy patients. The dogs must have veterinary clearance, too.

“They come in all breeds and sizes, from papillons to golden retrievers,” Gardner said. “We want good-mannered dogs, ones that are not jumpy, that sit quietly and are not friendly to a fault.”

The Mercy Super Dogs program also sends canines to the Mercy cancer center.

About 15 dog owners participate in the visits to Mercy and the hospital’s cancer center. Gardner has had her two papillons, Nellie and Oprah – now retired at age 14 – in the Mercy program.

Small dogs can sit on the patient’s bed, Gardner said. Large dogs stand near the bed, close enough to pet.

“Patients are comfortable with the dogs,” Gardner said. “It’s time that they aren’t being asked medical questions or being poked.”

Amy Daniels, who coordinates the activities of volunteers at Mercy who provide office help, circulate the hospitality cart with beverages and run the gift shop at Mercy, said the dogs are popular.

“The visits are very well received,” Daniels said. “They provide a bright spot in a day and also fill some special requests.”

Dr. Michael Demos, a cardiologist at Mercy, has kept Mello, a 12- or 13-year-old black Labrador, in his office for about eight years.

Mello is a rescue dog he brought from Idaho, Demos said. Mello is not part of the Mercy Super Dogs program, but he is a certified therapy dog, he said.

“Patients ask for him,” Demos said. “Everyone in the hospital knows him, and he is a real chick magnet.”

Demos said the Mercy Super Dogs program is a pure breed.

“It’s an excellent program,” Demos said. “It’s not totally the dogs. The owners are so gracious and kind.”

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