December 31, 2002
Pet therapy brightens day for hospital patients away from home
By Lisa Uzzle Gates
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Lorene Faulkenbery met a lot of therapists during her recent stay at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, but her one of her favorites had four legs.
She was one of several patients who visited with the therapy dogs of Canine Therapists of Mississippi. Suzanne Sims of Florence, along with several friends, began the visits eight years at Methodist Rehab.
Faulkenbery said she wasn’t sure she even wanted to participate in the visit, but felt so much better after she saw the dogs. “I was kind of tired, but once I saw those beautiful dogs I had a wonderful time,” the Pearl resident said. “A pet can just make your day.”
That was the reaction Sims and her fellow volunteers were hoping to generate.
“The patients love to see her and the dogs coming,” said Tonjala Averett, a recreational therapist. “The dogs are spirit-lifters for them. They remind the patients of home.”
Sims and each of the therapists introduced their dogs, telling patients about their history and personalities, then did a few tricks with them before visiting one-on-one with the patients. Sims brought along Adam, an 11-year-old Australian Shepherd who is the veteran of the group, and the newest member of the group, Trouble, a 13-month old Bouvier des Flandres. Adam has a long history with the group and Sims said he really enjoys the visits. “Like a lot of our dogs, Adam was a rescue dog. For a dog who was a throwaway, he’s really taken to helping others. When it’s time to go visit patients, he knows it. He gets excited,” she said.
Teri Spurk of Madison brought along Dallas, a two-year old Golden Retriever. “He loves to hunt…bananas and peanut butter,” Spurk told the patients. “His aim in life is to be petted by every person in creation.”
Susan Raphael of Ridgeland brought along Molly and Susie, Shetland sheep dogs. “They are herders. They will herd anything on wheels—including small children,” Raphael said, laughing. “And they love to chase squirrels.”
All of the dogs are certified through Therapy Dogs International. “We take what we do very seriously. We don’t want the dogs to ever scare patients or act out of line,” Sims said.
Whenever a new dog joins the group, it has to be personally interviewed by Sims.
Dogs are also bathed and groomed the night before visiting. “Pet therapy is the most rewarding experience I’ll ever have and I just want to make sure we’re taking the best behaved dogs with us,” she added.
The results are obvious.
“Sometimes, we’re able to get a response out of a patient that we might not be able to otherwise,” said Averett, who works with brain-injured patients. “When Adam walks in, almost every patient and employee smiles.”
Volunteers with Canine Therapists of Mississippi recently visited patients at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson. Teri Spurk of Madison talks with Lorene Faulkenbery of Pearl about Spurk's Golden Retriever, Dallas. This was the eighth year the group has visited the hospital.
Volunteers with Canine Therapists of Mississippi recently visited patients at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson. Floyd Daniels of Brookhaven talks with Susan Raphael of Ridgeland about one of the two Shelties she brings for visits. This was the eighth year the group has visited the hospital.