Giving back to the community: Therapy dogs offer companionship, love, and healing.
The following is a piece written by our relief veterinarian, Dr. Gina Blevins. Here, she describes the incredibly rewarding therapy animal work she does with her dog, Tex.
Tex is a five year old black Labrador Retriever that I raised to be a guide dog for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, but unfortunately he was released from the program due to stress. Tex had years of training with Guiding Eyes, and I knew he had a special gift that people could still benefit from. With that in mind, I had him tested to be a certified therapy dog with Pet Partners and together we are a therapy animal team! Tex took to his new job with confidence and true pleasure.
Tex and I visit at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia. When we pull into the parking lot, he tries to drag me into the hospital because he is so excited to be there! We have had many truly amazing interactions with patients, in which some have left profound memories.
On one visit, we were scheduled to visit “Sam,” a 21 year old girl who had been in a car accident. She had several fractures and lacerations that were healing, but the head trauma caused her to be in a coma for weeks. This was the first day that Sam had woken up but she was not responding to her environment. Her mother had been by her beside everyday with Sam’s nine month old son. We came in, introduced ourselves, and on command, Tex gently climbed into her bed. I asked Sam if she would like to pet Tex, and for the first time we saw a light in her eyes as she reached over to pet him. Needless to say there were many tears, as this was the first indication that Sam was there. She understood my request and was able to process the information, engage her muscles and followed through with the pet. We spent a good bit of time with Sam asking her to touch specific body parts on Tex – trying to stimulate her both mentally and physically. Sam’s mother told me she was scheduled to transfer to a nursing home, but expected this interaction would upgrade her to a neurology rehabilitation facility.
Another moving experience that I was privileged to be a witness to, was visiting a 93 year old woman who was scheduled to transfer to hospice care the next day. Her daughter, granddaughter and family were there visiting with her. Laying in the bed was a frail wisp of a woman who was asleep, but her breathing was labored and her jugular veins were distended. Tex ever so gently crawled into bed alongside her, laid his head on her shoulder and then did not move. Within minutes, her breathing eased and her jugular vein distention subsided; she never woke up but clearly Tex eased her distress and allowed her to find restful sleep. We stayed with her as long as we could and the family was so appreciative of the comfort that Tex could provide to their mother at the end of her life.
Tex didn’t make it as a guide dog but he has found a way to contribute to society in his own way. Being involved in pet therapy has showed me the profound effect that our animals can have on people both emotionally and physically. We should never underestimate the power that they possess, and make every effort to share it within our community.