Four Legged, Furry, Therapy Providers // Therapy Dogs

A child walking into a hospital may be scared, anxious, and dreading the unknown. However, when a toddler walked into Reid Health on February 3rd he was greeted by the sweet brown eyes of a therapy dog. The boy dropped his dad’s hand and made a bee-line to hug the gentle German Shepherd. Cheyenne is one of 9 therapy dogs that grace the halls of Reid. Jim Hasecoster, Cheyenne’s owner, has had 6 German Shepherds over the years. Other than Cheyenne, he currently has Dakota who is also a therapy dog but only visits schools. Jim loves coming to the hospital with his faithful companion and seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces. “Last year when I first started, my first day here I was walking over by the inpatient elevators and a patient’s family saw us coming. She immediately came over and starting loving on Cheyenne and said, ‘This is just what I needed.’ The families get just as much of a visit from dogs as the patients do.”

While the little boy had quickly made his way towards the dogs, his older sister wasn’t so sure. She hid behind her mother, who was encouraging the small girl to pet one of the dogs. Richard Bilbrey made his way over with his sweet natured dog, Harley, who immediately began wagging her tail. After a few seconds the girl began petting Harley and smiling up at her mother, no sign of the nervousness she had just displayed. Harley is 7 years old and has been visiting patients since the day Richard brought her home. “The day I picked her up she was 10 weeks old and our first stop was to a nursing home where my mother was.” One of the nurses at the nursing home noticed how sweet Harley was and suggested Richard get her certified, “She had therapy dogs too and she told me Harley was a natural.” Richard got online and found the skills the dogs are tested on, he trained Harley himself, and then took her to Muncie for the 3 hour test. She received her certification and has been visiting the sick ever since.

Molly, a 6 year old Aussie/Collie, waited patiently with her owners Brenda & Barry Beyer for it to be her turn to be loved on by the small children. Brenda’s favorite part of having a therapy dog is seeing the smiles on people’s faces. “You can tell it really touches them to see the dogs.” Barry took out his phone and pulled up a picture, “This is why we do it”, he said. The picture was of Barry during a recent surgery. He was laying in his bed and man’s best friend, Molly, was sitting in a chair next to him. “I don’t know who was more excited, me or her. She came in that room excited to see me and I was excited to see her too.” Along with being a therapy dog, Molly also does dancing therapy. “She does K9 Musical Freestyle. We actually just had a competition in Michigan in October.” Molly is Brenda & Barry’s first therapy dog and they love the healing effect she has on the patients and their families. “She really has an effect on everyone, the employees, the families, everybody! Everyone is always excited to see the dogs and you can tell it brightens their day.”

Pet therapy is fun for all – who doesn’t enjoy the unconditional love of a pet? It helps to reduce the feeling of stress and anxiety along with decreasing blood pressure and heart rate. This type of therapy has also shown to reduce pain, depression, and fatigue in patients. The first documented use of animals, in a therapeutic sense, dates back to the 9th Century, however, it originated at Reid in October of 1992. Colleen Brobeck and her Schnauzer, Gaben were the first pair in the Therapy Dog Program and they volunteered in the Physical Therapy department. Their main task was to facilitate interest in performing assigned therapy tasks. They brought joy to patients, staff, and the public until December 2003 when Gaben passed away. The program has since evolved to include a majority of departments at Reid.

Before becoming a therapy dog each dog must pass a series of tests and be certified by the Therapy Dogs International organization. “They are monitored annually for their health and vaccination protocols. In addition, many of these therapy teams continuously perform in obedience training and skill trials outside the hospital to keep them mentally engaged and disciplined so they are sharp when performing their therapy visits”, John Herig, chair of the Canine Therapy Program at Reid writes. There is no set size or shape for a therapy dog and here at Reid we have many different breeds that vary in size. Many people remember Alvin, a 150 pound Leonberger, and his trainer Julia Roberts. “He has reached national acclaim for his talent for ringing the bell while working for our local Salvation Army Kettle Drive”, John recalls. The newest member is little Kona Kirk, a black lab, who at about a year old is still learning the necessary skills to become a therapy dog.

Dogs like Alvin have visited the hospital for years, whereas Kona is just beginning her adventure – but each dog’s visit looks fairly similar. During their weekly visits you can find therapy dogs in the lobby, walking the hallways, and on the inpatient floors. Once they stop on an inpatient floor the handler will stop a patient’s room and ask if they would like a visit from the dog. If the patient agrees the handler and dog will spend a few minutes with the patient allowing the patient time to pet and love on the dog. When an individual is hospitalized they can be removed from all comforts of home. We want to put our patients at ease as much as possible during their stay. The Reid Health Therapy Dog program is one way we bring a little comfort from home to every patient we touch. If you would like to support the dogs and their trainers the Reid Health Foundation has established a fund to accept donations to help support the efforts of the Therapy Dog Program. Interested in becoming a volunteer? Call (765) 983-3152.