On July 30, 2010, my seven year old daughter Stella was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. What she thought was going to be a regular visit with her doctor turned into an ambulance ride to the hospital and four days of needles, tests, and round-the-clock visits from doctors and nurses. She was scared and unhappy about everything she was learning about her new future with diabetes. Aside from being allowed to stay up as late as she wanted, there wasn’t much about her stay that she would have considered fun. At least until she got a visit from Bruin.
On our second day in the hospital, a little beige dog trotted through her hospital room door followed by her owner, who explained that Bruin, a Havanese, was a therapy dog and that he was visiting all of the children at the hospital that day. My daughter Stella is a HUGE dog lover and could not have been more excited to receive such an unexpected visitor. She looked like a prisoner who was getting a visit from a family member. “Finally!” she was thinking, “Someone who understands me!” Bruin jumped up on her bed and lay down next to her so she could pet him as the adults chatted. Bruin’s mom even had treats that Stella could give him, which they both enjoyed. Before leaving, Bruin’s owner took a photo, which they gave us, of Stella and Bruin together. A little memento to remember her new friend!
When Bruin finally left to visit another child, I could see a definite change in Stella’s attitude and it remained visible for quite some time. That little fuzzy dog had soothed her in a way that none of us had been able to do. It was a pretty amazing thing to see.
The very next day we got another surprise visit. The same organization (www.LOVEON4PAWS.org) had a whole group of dogs at the hospital for a tour. These were dogs who were signed up to be therapy dogs but who hadn’t met with their first patient yet. They stopped at Stella’s room and asked if it was okay if they came in to say hi. They hadn’t stopped in any other patient rooms so Stella was thrilled. At least ten dogs and their owners piled into her room…big dogs and little dogs, all of them happy and calm and excited to be visiting with someone. Stella was able to pet several of them before they had to leave to continue their tour. As soon as they were gone, Stella asked me if I thought they would be back the next day. That was the first of many times she would ask that question that day.
We are now several months into my daughter’s new life with diabetes and she still talks about her hospital visit with fuzzy little Bruin and how cool it was that the kids at the hospital get to visit with dogs. I’m so thankful for the work this organization, and others like them, does. They gave my daughter a happy memory to carry with her from her time at the hospital and I never would have thought that was possible.
As you can see, therapy dogs and their owners do a wonderful service to anyone who is sick, scared, and lonely. All of the volunteers I spoke with told me how rewarding the work is. Many of their therapy dogs had been adopted from animal shelters or rescue groups. I encourage anyone who is interested in finding out what it takes to become a therapy dog team to visit http://www.deltasociety.org. Delta Society is a wonderful organization that certifies therapy animals of all kinds and helps connect volunteers to volunteer opportunities.
Editor’s note: Laurie Wisneski is Director of Adoption Services for Adopt-a-Pet.com. This is her first blog post, but with three rescued dogs, two kids, and an adopted Guinea Pig named Molly, you can bet she has a lot to say. We look forward to more of her posts!