Therapaws uses canine-human bond to help patients "heel"

Thursday, April 13, 2017 - 6:36pm

Washtenaw Technical Middle College student Devin Wadley handles the therapy dog Legend as students pet him in the Shapiro Library on Tuesday.

Washtenaw Technical Middle College student Devin Wadley handles the therapy dog Legend as students pet him in the Shapiro Library on Tuesday. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Jared Wadley

 

Legend, a 7-year-old collie, makes his way into C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital for his afternoon shift. By his side are his owner and Jared Wadley, the senior public relations representative at Michigan News. The two are a part of Therapaws of Michigan, an organization that provides therapeutic and educational canine visits to the Washtenaw County area.

Wadley began volunteering about seven years ago with his now-retired therapy dog Bella. Bella was a frequent visitor at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center for about six and a half years. Now Wadley and Legend can be found at Mott.

While the process to become a certified therapy dog is extensive, Legend seemed to have some of the necessary characteristics instilled within him. Wadley noted Legend’s personality made him a good fit to be a therapy dog.

“He’s just a friendly dog,” Wadley said. “Part of it being a therapy dog, you have to have a really good temperament. Every time you see him, it seems like he's always smiling so that always puts people in a good mood.”

With about 25 teams assigned to Michigan Medicine, Therapaws’s therapy dogs can be found at Mott, the medical procedures unit, the intensive care unit as well as the Cardiovascular Center. The dogs typically visit individual patient rooms and interact with groups.

Lana Berry, a volunteer supervisor and liaison between Therapaws and Michigan Medicine, has been involved with canine therapy for 15 years. Her main responsibilities include screening the therapy dogs and scheduling dog visits to medical units in need. Berry emphasized the importance of the canine-human bond in the healing process.

“A lot of people, when they are in the hospital, are missing their own pets, so just being able to hug or touch or pet a furry dog makes them more comfortable,” Berry said. “Studies have shown that it reduces blood pressure, reduces anxiety and just overall (promotes) well-being for the patients.”

Wadley, who refers to himself as the dog whisperer, has found the patients at Mott respond to visits from Legend. He added the patients gravitate toward Legend’s gentle side.

This is especially the case for a young girl who suffered from a traumatic dog bite. She initially felt uneasy with the idea of petting Legend, so Wadely suggested she start petting Legend from the back, working her way up to his head. Eventually, she felt comfortable enough to give Legend a treat.

“She started smiling and she felt better,” Wadley said. “Before we left, she gave him a hug. That just reconfirms what therapy is all about, especially for kids, just making sure they have really good experiences.”

Wadley has found volunteering at Mott to be especially impactful because of the anxieties that accompany being such a young patient.

“A lot of times when we see some of these kids, they are going into surgery, so they are feeling a little bit nervous and apprehensive about getting the procedures that they are having, so bringing a dog there calms them down a little bit and provides a distraction,” Wadley said.

The main goal of Therapaws is to bring comfort and joy to those young and old, in the form of canine therapy. Karen O’Connor, the president of Therapaws of Michigan, has been in the business of therapy dogs for nearly 20 years.

“I think canine therapy is special because it takes (the patient’s) mind off of whatever is going on in their life and in their illness,” O’Connor said. “I think it’s a huge stress reliever. The dogs are entertaining, they remind them of their pets.”

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