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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Therapy dogs provide stress relief, help patients cope at Markey Cancer Center

Clyde and his owner, UK HealthCare volunteer Ellen Karpf, visit patient Lucy Williams at Markey Cancer Center. (Photo from UKNow)


 

By Allison Perry
Special to KyForward
 

It’s a sound that might seem out of place in a hospital setting, but when UK Markey Cancer Center patient Carla Tufts hears two sharp barks from the other side of her wall, she smiles. Clyde, one of two pet therapy dogs who regularly visits inpatients at Markey, is on his way.
 

“It just brightens your day,” she said.
 

Clyde’s owner, UK HealthCare volunteer Ellen Karpf, brings him into the room. Wearing a royal blue UK sweater, Clyde counts for Carla (by barking), “says his prayers,” and eagerly approaches her for some petting and a treat.
 

Clyde smiles for the cameras. (Photo from UKNow)

This has been the routine every Thursday for Karpf, who for the past two years has brought either Clyde or his sister Bonnie, both golden retrievers, to Markey for the pet therapy visits. She also brings one of the dogs to Kentucky Children’s Hospital on Tuesdays to visit pediatric patients.
 

“The dogs love it,” Karpf said. “They get excited; they fight over who’s coming that day when I take out the fanny pack with the treats and the credentials. We’ve had some really neat experiences with patients.”
 

Pet therapy can help people recover from or better cope with health problems, and the goal is to improve a patient’s social, emotional or cognitive functioning. For many patients, a visit with one of the therapy dogs provides much-needed stress relief during their stay. For others, the dogs provide just what they need to help cope.
 

“Once there was a little girl getting chemo — and they said, ‘You’ll never get this child to smile,’” Karpf said. “Clyde walked in and she threw her arms around him and just hugged him. I couldn’t get him out of the room! We went in to see somebody else, and he just pulled me right back to her.”
 

For Markey patient Lucy Williams, the visit with Clyde reminded her of her own furry therapist waiting to dote on her when she goes home to recover.
 

“It’s nice, I think it’s a great idea,” Williams said. “I have a 2-year-old English lab at home, and jokingly we said what a great companion dog he’s going to be for me, because I’ve got kind of a long journey ahead of me.”
 


 

Karpf, Clyde and Bonnie provide their services through the UK HealthCare volunteer office. To become certified pet therapy dogs, both Clyde and Bonnie completed the Love on a Leash program here in Lexington. For more information on that program, click here. For more information on how to become a UK HealthCare volunteer, click here or contact Bonnie Thornton at bthor@uky.edu.
 

You might also be interested in reading Booker T. Washington students find reading buddies through Love on a Leash program.

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