Wash. — During a recent afternoon shift change on the
oncology floor at Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue,
the usual suspects crowded the hallway: nurses, aides,
visitors, patients in wheelchairs towing IV poles.
one visitor quickly attracted a circle of admirers:
Viansa, a yellow lab with soft ears and understanding
is part of a team of five certified therapy dogs who
visit the hospital weekly with their handlers to bring
patients a measure of calm and reassurance. Several
hospitals in the region, including Seattle Children’s
and Swedish Medical Center, have added therapy dogs to
their ranks of volunteers.
dogs listen attentively as children read to them, lay a
head on the shoulder of the infirm and ease the tension
in a room full of anxious family members.
Keenan, Viansa’s handler and a nurse herself, said
that being in the hospital is often a difficult time in
a person’s life, scary for both the patient and the
family. A dog can offer comfort and unconditional love.
recalled a past visit to a hospital room.
family was surrounding the dying patient. Viansa went
from person to person. They were loving on her,
crying," she said.
was trained as a puppy to be a Guide Dog for the Blind,
but she had a spot on her own eye that veterinarians
worried would become a cataract. A blind dog couldn’t
lead the blind, Keenan said, but her temperament —
easygoing and well-behaved — made her a perfect
become part of Overlake’s dog-therapy team, a dog must
be at least a year old, be certified as a therapy dog,
and undergo additional training in hospital procedures
Epstein, Overlake’s resource specialist, said the dogs
have to have excellent behavior, obey commands and
remain calm in the presence of noise and sudden
might seem counterintuitive to introduce a dog into a
hospital’s sterile environment, but Epstein said the
dogs are bathed and brushed before they arrive for their
shift. And the handlers themselves use hand sanitizer
both before and after entering a patient’s room. She
notes that the dogs can’t visit isolation rooms, where
the risk of infection is high.
dog that completes the hospital training receives a
yellow bandanna and an Overlake photo ID badge.
put on my clothes (an Overlake polo shirt and khaki
slacks), she puts on her scarf, and she knows we’re
going to work," said Keenan, who noted that Viansa
is a former Overlake Volunteer of the Month.
a black and white sheltie, divides his time between
Overlake, the Swedish Medical Center Issaquah Campus and
several nursing homes on the Eastside. His handler,
Laurie Wilson, said she loves pets and had experienced
the joy they could bring.
knew how much they helped me, calming me, bringing a
smile to my face," Wilson said.
recalled a hospital shift several years ago at Overlake
when a nurse asked if she and Truitt could visit one
more room. When they walked in, Wilson said the man’s
eyes were half-closed and he was lying quite still. She
put a towel on the bed beside him and placed Truitt on
man started to stroke him, saying, €˜Nice dog. Good
boy.’ And then, €˜You’re my angel, you and your
dog.’" After the visit, Wilson led Truitt from
the room, but the dog dug in his heels and wouldn’t go
beyond the door. Wilson said he kept looking back, as if
he didn’t want to leave the man’s side.
Mollner, who handles Charlie, a 3-year-old mini
Australian labradoodle, recalled a similar visit the
previous week to an older man on the floor for heart
patients.His sight was poor, and his physical condition
seemed fragile, so she held Charlie in her lap and
guided the man’s hand to the dog.
a minute, the man asked, "What kind of song would
Charlie like?" He then started singing in a
beautiful voice from a repertoire of barbershop-quartet
songs. A visitor arrived, another quartet member, and
together the men harmonized on another song.
don’t know if we would have had that moment if I hadn’t
had Charlie," Mollner said.
leading Viansa through the Overlake halls on her leash,
said that a nonverbal patient will get happy at the
sight of a dog. A crabby patient will cheer up, making
the patient more cooperative with hospital staff. One
charge nurse wasn’t into dogs, Keenan said. Now she
stashes treats in her bottom drawer.
the rounds on the oncology floor, an older male patient,
Dewitt Thorgerson, said he’d been looking forward to
Viansa’s visit. He’d been in the hospital more than
she didn’t come, I’d want to know why," said
Thorgeson, leaning so far forward in the chair beside
his hospital bed to pet the dog that he set off an
alarm. Viansa moved in closer so Thorgeson didn’t have
to reach so far. Keenan slipped the man dog treats so
Thorgeson could reward Viansa for sitting and shaking
the hall, patient Kathy Barnes got one look at the dog
in the doorway and thumped her palm against her heart.
From her hospital bed, she called, "C’mere, baby.
Soft, beautiful girl."
removed the oxygen tubes from her nose so she could
nuzzle with Viansa. They talked for a while, Barnes face
above her hospital gown was bright and animated. She
called to her husband in the hall, so he could meet the
do wonderful things for the spirit," she said.
"She made my whole day."