Therapy dog teams spread health and happiness around Dillon

Linda Lyon and her therapy dog Lyric bring a smile to patient Kelly Brewer on a recent visit to Barrett Hospital by Dillon Caring Canines

 

Barrett Hospital goes to the dogs Wednesday afternoons around 4 p.m. And patients, hospital staffers and the dogs themselves couldn’t be happier about it.

“I so look forward to this every week,” said Kelly Brewer, a patient at Barrett Hospital for the last four months, during which time she’s enjoyed Wednesday afternoon visits from Dillon Caring Canines, a group of local therapy dog teams, each consisting of a certified dog and its owner/handler.

“One or two of the dogs come close to you and don’t hesitate with the hugs and kisses. One I call Freckles sits under my table and waits for all the other dogs to get the attention, and after they leave he comes over and gets his love,” said Brewer, owner of a black schnauzer rescue dog.

“They keep my heart warm and my blood pressure down. I can’t say enough about these magical little creatures.”

Led by Linda Lyon and Emily Rebich, Dillon Caring Canines began performing weekly visits to Barrett Hospital in January. The group’s nine local owner-dog teams have also paid visits to Youth Challenge, assisted living facilities and local schools.

“We always think of it as bringing smiles to people,” said Lyon, who, along with Rebich, last summer became a local tester/observer for Therapy Dogs, Inc, the national organization that provides insurance coverage and certification protocol for therapy dog teams. 

Lyon and Rebich certify those interested in forming a therapy dog team through an obedience test and three observations to ensure that the dogs possess the demeanor and discipline for the job. 

That job comes with benefits for the dogs, according to Lyon, who teams up on visits with her collie, Lyric.

“All dogs need a job and this is a great job for them, one that provides a valuable community service,” said Lyon, who leads local 4H classes in dog obedience and agility, and runs Happy Hounds Dog Training Center, which is dedicated to positive training techniques designed to strengthen the relationship between canines and their owners.

“After they do a visit to the hospital, you notice how relaxed and happy they are. They know it’s their job and that they’ve done their job,” added Lyon, the chair of the environmental sciences department at the University of Montana Western, where she has been a faculty member for the past six years.

“Dogs are happy when they are being challenged and meeting people,” commented Carol Hursh, who began performing therapy dog visits with her golden retriever, Chase, while she was working with children with autism. 

“Chase got to enjoy being a therapy dog so much that if he could have driven there, he would have done it himself every day.”

The therapy dogs also make people’s jobs a little easier to do, as evidenced by the warm and lengthy greetings they receive from Barrett Hospital staffers. 

“We usually end up spending about ten minutes just with the staff,” said Rebich, who does visits with her Australian shepherd, Cindy Lou Who. “It takes a while just to get them past the receptionist.” 

But the patients remain the focus and greatest beneficiaries of the visits.

“The therapy dogs definitely cheer people up—patients are just more happy and content after a visit from them,” said Vicki Robinson, an RN who has worked at Barrett Hospital for 30 years.

“Some of our patients are here for long stays, and they are the ones who like the dogs the most. It gives them something to think about besides their illnesses and their pain,” added Robinson, who has two Labradors of her own.

“One day when we came here, there was a patient who had just gotten really bad news,” said Drin Becker, who makes therapy dog visits with Toy, her Yorkshire terrier.

“She wanted to put her head down and cry.  But when she saw us coming, she just smiled. It made her day.”

Numerous studies have backed up the notion that ailing people benefit from interacting with trained dogs. Though just watching patients light up as the therapy dog teams make their way through Barrett Hospital on Wednesday afternoon pretty much tells you all you need to know about the dynamic.

“The first time I saw those little black noses come under the bed, I was smitten,” said Brewer, who last Wednesday spent a few minutes with each of the six visiting therapy dog teams, including Pat McNeill and her golden retriever Skipper, and Liz Allen and Sundance, a border collie/blue heeler mix.

“Having these little guys come around and seeing their owners take the time to bring them in—it’s just spectacular and so caring. 

“You can’t possibly appreciate how much it means to get a visit from these four-footed love bugs unless you’ve experienced it from where I’m sitting.”

If you’re interested in getting a visit from Dillon Caring Canines or forming a therapy dog team, contact Linda Lyon at 683-2878 or email her at llyon99163@yahoo.com, or email Emily Rebich at darkhorsepaints@gmail.com.