HosPooch program brings an enjoyable respite to patients, caregivers and staff.
Some visitors to health-care facilities just have better bedside manners than others. A friendly, caring face; eyes full of concern; a wagging tail. Yes, some of the most popular caregivers at Florida Hospital Medical Center facilities have tails … and paws.
For nearly a decade, the Florida Hospital HospiceCare “HosPooch” program has brought trained dogs to visit patients, their families and caregivers in hospice care. Patients can be in their own home, a nursing home or an inpatient unit.
Recently, the HosPooch program has been introduced to the Cancer Institute at Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center, where patients are receiving radiation and chemotherapy.
Jenny Ketring, oncology social worker, said the patients know the dogs’ names and are excited to see them when they pad into the room.
“I wish I got that kind of response from patients,” she said, laughing. “They bring happiness and a smile.”
Sharon Sisko, of Daytona Beach, spent some quality time with Otis, a boxer mix, after her radiation session recently.
“I perk up a bit,” she said. “It’s very good to have them. My father raised dogs. It makes me feel good.”
Otis has something in common with patients he sees … a physical problem he is overcoming. He was hit by a car as a puppy and walks with a very noticeable limp because of nerve damage. He has received stem cell and other treatment.
“He has a handicap but it hasn’t handicapped him,” said Barbara Cady, coordinator and founder of the HosPooch Program.
She said the dogs are a good conversation starter.
“Dogs evoke memories of the patients’ and families’ former pets,” she said. “It gives them a chance to tell their story.”
Cady said 10 years ago the staff at a hospice told her about a patient who seemed detached from staff and other patients. They said she once raised dogs, and suggested a dog might be helpful. Cady brought in a dog, and the lady petted the animal and said, “Nice doggie.” After that, she began to relate more to others.
Cady said after that experience, she researched the topic and introduced it to Florida Hospital.
All of the dogs belong to Hospice volunteers. After undergoing in-home training, they are certified by Intermountain Therapy Animals. Many different breeds and sizes are used.
“The dogs are evaluated on 22 points,” Cady said. “They look for social skills.”
Barbara Kilgore, who owns Otis, said she was looking for a way to volunteer and heard about the HosPooch program. She thought Otis would be a good fit and it has turned out to be fun.
“Otis is just lovable and laid-back,” she said.
Ketring said the patients seem happier and more peaceful, and there’s less fatigue and pain.
“We try to be upbeat in a difficult situation and the pets make a big difference,” she said. “It’s a soothing and comforting break for the patients as well as the families. It’s beautiful.”
The staff at the Cancer Institute also enjoys having the dogs.
“Sometimes we have three or four dogs and we get to see all of them,” she said. “It’s vital for caregivers to refresh. It’s made a difference in all our lives.”