There's no denying that man's best friend can offer a pick-me-up on even our worst days. Those wagging tails, loving eyes and nearly-human smiles can help us forget our troubles, even if only for a while.
Consider then what a therapy dog can do for hospital patients feeling sick, in pain or even approaching end of life. Sharp Grossmont Hospital is home to Sharp's largest brigade of certified therapy pets, with 26 pooches who roam the hospital, wearing name badges and eager to make someone's day.
Linda Van Fulpen, manager of Volunteer Services at Sharp Grossmont, says some of the most rewarding moments of her busy days at the hospital are walking the halls with her four-legged helpers and their owners.
"Watching the big smiles come across patients' faces reinforces the positive impact these dogs have," says Van Fulpen. "Patients are so grateful and appreciate that unconditional love."
Patients choose whether they want a visit from a therapy dog or not. The dogs make their rounds through units such as long-term care, acute care, the cancer treatment center, rehabilitation, behavioral health and hospice. Liz Rajknecht is the owner of Milagra, a charming golden retriever who has been a therapy dog for four-and-a-half years. Liz says their frequent visits to the cancer treatment center are some of the most poignant.
"Some patients have to spend a lot of time there," says Rajknecht. "Some of them look a little lost or down, and when I bring in Milagra, there is an instant smile. Sometimes they tell you about their own dogs, and you can see such a difference in a short period of time." She adds that the nurses and doctors enjoy their visits too. "They don't have easy jobs."
The pups come in all sizes. Dylan and Jagger are two Shih Tzus, perfect for those who prefer lap dogs. Mid-size Winston is a rescued Australian cattle dog and, for those who prefer an official "giant breed," meet Buxton the Leonberger, an extra-large fellow who hails from Germany.
Therapy dogs must pass an American Kennel Club Good Citizen test and complete an obedience evaluation, ensuring they are fit for the job. Once they reach one year, they can submit their resume.
Hope the Rottweiler is a hospital favorite, and her brother Garth aspires to someday become a therapy pet too. Hope recently visited rehabilitation patient Jackie Daw, who doesn't have pets at home but was up for the visit.
"She looked a little scary at first, but I really like her," says Jackie. "She's good at her job too, and for me, she gives me hope being in here. See, she has the perfect name."