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Canine volunteers calm cancer patients | News, Sports, Jobs

Sarah Reid gives her therapy dog ​​Augie a hug at UPMC Susquehanna Divine Providence Hospital recently. She and her de ella two therapy dogs, Vogue and Augie volunteer at the hospital on Mondays to help lift the spirits of cancer patients undergoing treatment. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

There’s a group of volunteers at the Hillman Cancer Center at UPMC Susquehanna whose primary job is to calm and comfort patients going through treatment for cancer. These are not ordinary volunteers. They walk on four legs, are furry and it’s hard to resist their soulful eyes and friendly natures.

Having gone through pet therapy training with her own dog, Michelle Gaida, director of UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, knew the benefits that pets have for nursing home patients and also for college students facing the stress of finals.

“We wanted to bring that to our cancer patients,” she said. “Cancer is a devastating diagnosis. It results in depression. It can result in anxiety. You’re fatigued. You’re fearful. You could be in some pain. Pet therapy can reduce all of those symptoms.”

“To be able to see a pet come in and take a patient who you can clearly see is distressed and is anxious and depressed, and to turn that around and see a huge smile on their face and to bring them so much joy by seeing these pets That’s why we’re here. That’s our life’s work. That’s what we want to do, and I’m just proud to be a part of it,” Gaida said.

The patients typically love the visits from the canine volunteers.

“They’re all excited. It brings a huge smile to their face. They’re like come here, come here. They want to play with them as long as they can,” she said.

There is evidence and research that says it only takes about five minutes of being with a pet to see the level of anxiety and depression as well as blood pressure and pain levels decrease.

“It’s a tremendous benefit,” she added.

The program has been up and running for about four years, although it took a hiatus because of COVID. Now, they have begun to ramp up again, Gaida said.

“This is just one of the tools in our tool box. These complementary therapies that we offer the patient are so important. We deliver world-renowned cancer care here at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, and this is just that icing on the cake,” she stated

“Things like this, like our cooling cap program, our massage therapy program, other services like that, that we can offer. We don’t want anyone to have cancer, but if you do have cancer to know that you can have amazing care here, where you live, near your home with these nice adjunct therapies is such a benefit,” she said.

Sarah Reid, of Williamsport, who along with her dogs, Augie and Vogue, are part of the pet therapy at Hillman and have been visiting patients for about four and a half years. In all there are six dogs who visit patients on different days of the week.

Reid explained a little bit about what it takes to be a therapy dog.

“We just sort of meander and say hello to people and give people an opportunity to share their story and interact with the dog,” she said.

“A therapy dog ​​is a trained pet who has gone through a certification process and is permitted to visit in hospitals, nursing homes and other public places with permission, of course. They provide the service of just comfort and interacting with people,” Reid said.

Although there is not one specific type or breed of dog that is best suited as a therapy dog, pets that have gone through obedience training and have a calm disposition are better for the job.

In a hospital setting, the dogs need to practice being around medical equipment, and they must not be afraid of loud noises or elevators.

“Any dog ​​can be a therapy dog ​​if they’re friendly and motivated to obey, and they love people,” Reid said.

“Patients love to see the dogs. They just have a great chance to separate themselves from the treatment for a little while, and also it’s a wonderful opportunity for them, too, to share about their own pets and their own experiences,” she said. “The dogs really bring that out in people.”

For Reid, the most rewarding part in coming to Hillman is that she gets to meet new people to hear their stories.

“I love people, and I love interacting with them, and I love doing that with my pets because it opens a lot of doors,” she said.

Augie and Vogue love the experience, too, and get excited when she nears the hospital. On the days that she brings the dogs to visit at the cancer treatment center, she uses different collars and leashes and the dogs know where they’re headed on those days and that they have to be on their best behavior.

Who gets more excited about visiting Hillman?

“I think it’s a tie. We both like to eat,” Reid said.

Reid said that she would encourage anyone who has a dog that is friendly and outgoing to see if their pet might be suited for the program.

“I would encourage you to train it and find some local organization to help you with that. There is always room for more people to come on board and volunteer in this way,” she said.

Augie and Vogue are therapy dogs, not service dogs, Reid said. A service dog provides a service to its owner or handler because of some disability or medical condition.

“A therapy dog ​​is very different in that they don’t provide any service to their handler. All their benefit is in interacting and giving people a more enjoyable day,” Reid said.

This story was written from a video which can be viewed on the Sun-Gazette YouTube channel.

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