Therapy dogs offer comfort to cancer patients
Cairo, a German Shepherd-mix, lay content at the man’s feet in the waiting room of the Samaritan Regional Cancer Center.
Clad in a patient gown and tube socks, awaiting radiation therapy in a room full of people, the man had every reason to feel self conscious, anxious or simply impatient. Instead, the man smiled with nostalgia as he rubbed Cairo’s belly with one sock-clad foot, remembering a pair of Cocker Spaniels he’d once owned.
Cairo’s handler Wendy McCoy also smiled as the man described the Spaniels, how they’d chased squirrels, terrorized the mailman and ran the other way when called to come inside. His were stories of amused exasperation at the antics of his former pets. He passed the time in this manner until he was called to the treatment room.
Her source of attention gone, Cairo soon found another Cancer Center patient to snuggle up to, and McCoy made another new friend.
“My dogs love the attention and I love to talk,” said McCoy, who works with Welcome Waggers Therapy Dogs, a Corvallis-based group which brings therapy dogs into health care and assisted living settings. “You find out so much about people. People get comfortable, and open up so easily when you have a dog.”
Therapy dogs are a welcome and common sight in all five Samaritan hospitals in Albany, Corvallis, Lebanon, Lincoln City and Newport. Care providers and patients are happy to see the dogs and their handlers coming because therapy dogs provide a wealth of proven benefits – including reducing stress and muscle tension, lowering blood pressure, boosting morale and more.
“It makes it a little better,” said a radiation therapy patient. “It takes your mind off stuff.”
Therapy dogs in the health care setting are registered through national therapy dog organizations – Welcome Waggers are registered with Therapy Dogs Incorporated. To become a therapy dog, the dog and the handler undergo a testing process to ensure the dog is friendly and easily managed in a variety of settings. Any breed of dog can be a therapy dog as long as the animal is calm, friendly and likes making new friends.
Some therapy dogs have a special calling to the work, like Cairo, who is a cancer survivor herself.
“She has a special empathy for cancer patients,” McCoy said.