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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Dogs prescribe best medicine

Therapy dogs offer creature comforts at hospital

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 harbored aggression.

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.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.