Dogs prescribe best medicine
Therapy dogs offer creature comforts at
By MEGAN THOMAS
Express Staff Writer
The Wood River Valley’s newest graduates
will soon roam the halls of St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center. These
graduates will not wear scrubs or carry stethoscopes. Instead, the four-legged
friends will opt for colored bandanas to help brighten the days of those staying
at the hospital.
Carrie Bauwens of Ketchum and her dog
Tom visit with hospital volunteers at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center.
Express photo by Willy Cook
"If I was in the hospital, this is what I
would want," said Carrie Bauwens, a volunteer in the pet therapy program from
Ketchum. "That’s why I do it."
Bauwens’ golden retriever Tom and three
other valley dogs are in training to become part of the pet therapy program in
place at the medical center. These dogs will join 10 other valley canines
currently certified to take part in the program. The program has been in place
at the hospital for a year.
"Patients love it, especially the kids,"
said Brad Harwood, a trainer with Therapy Dogs, Inc. from Boise. "The dogs love
it and the staff appreciates it."
Harwood explained the dogs help at
hospitals by serving as a distraction to those under going procedures like
drawing blood or by helping to lift the spirits of those who miss their own
pets. This weekend marked the home stretch of month-long intensive training for
the new canine candidates. During the weekend the dogs and their owners ventured
into St. Luke’s for simulated visits with hospital volunteers. The visits are
designed to test the dogs’ skills and dispositions before they are permitted to
visit actual patients.
Although the program is designed to
benefit patients, it appears to be multi-beneficial.
"I think this is going to keep her
younger," volunteer Dusty Pollock of Bellevue remarked about his 10-year-old
black Newfoundland dog, Bonnie, who is taking part in the training.
During the simulated visits trainers
tested Bonnie and the others by scattering treats across the hospital bed. The
dogs have been taught to ignore the treats, to prevent accidental consumption of
medicine or other hazardous materials.
While waiting for his visit, Fische, an
English Mastiff owned by Kelly White of Ketchum, demonstrated his self-disciple
by casually ignoring a treat placed directly on his paw.
Fische and his friends began the program
with a challenge test to assess basic obedience and weed out other dogs that
After the challenge test, training turned
to socialization skills and practice at the hospital. The initial hospital
visits introduced dogs to the medical environment, where dogs become accustomed
to unfamiliar aspects like riding elevators or being bumped by wheelchairs.
The dogs then ventured into simulated
visits. Each session begins with tying on a bandanna. As soon as the bandanna is
placed around their necks the dogs understand their work has begun.
The training is also work for each dog
owner. All are active participants, conversing with the patients, learning to
operate hospital beds and donating their time to the program.
Next weekend, the owners and their dogs
will travel to Boise to gain experience in a busier hospital. The visit will
complete the training, and the dogs will be certified to visit patients in the
Wood River Valley.