As Sheila Evans patiently waited in the infusion room for her second day of chemotherapy, she received an unexpected visit from a furry pup that would soon become a special friend.
When Pets At Duke (PAD) therapy dog Kylie, a 7-year-old black Labrador retriever, was introduced to the Wilmington, North Carolina, native, a wide smile crossed Evan’s face. As her eyes began to well up, she shared that her tears were somewhat bittersweet.
“Interacting with Kylie really touched my heart,” Evans, 68, said. “Sadly I lost my dog, Sassy, two year ago and for me, losing her was like losing a child. On the bright side, Kylie’s visit brought back so many sweet memories, I’m very glad that I was able to spend time with her.”
To receive treatment Evans, relocated in November to Durham, North Carolina.
“When I first came to Duke my health was in very bad shape,” she said.
Evans said Kylie’s visit was a distraction from her new reality—battling cancer.
“Having the visit from Kylie was the highlight of my day,” Evans said. “I’m used to being around dogs and although she isn’t mine, having Kylie around made me feel at home.”
According to research, interaction between pets and humans can reduce stress and depression. Pets At Duke therapy began in 1994 as an initiative provided by Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“Kylie has been a therapy dog since she was a year old,” said Kylie’s owner and therapy partner Emilie Beglane. “When we go on our therapy visits, I handle Kylie while my husband accompanies Kylie’s sister, Abby. My husband and I are retired; we have been volunteering since 1999. The rewards for doing this are far greater than those I’ve ever received while working as a corporate professional.”
Pets At Duke provides safe therapeutic dog visits to patients in approved areas of Duke. Therapy dogs visit 14 different locations at Duke. Within the program there are 19 therapy partners and 22 different breeds of dogs, including a Bernese mountain dog, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, corgis, beagles and a greyhound. This year, Pets at Duke made more than 8,500 visits to patients.
“The purpose of Pets at Duke is to reduce stress and provide companionship for our patients,” said Pets at Duke coordinator Kristy Everette, LRT/CTRS, who throughout her own battle with squamous cell carcinoma looked to her late loyal companion, Miller, a collie shepherd mix, for comfort. “The program also provides patients the opportunity to interact with dogs during their visit, which presents a normalized experience to assist during diagnosis, prognosis, hospitalization or treatment.
Before therapy teams are inducted into the Pets At Duke program, the dogs and their partners must undergo training, be tested and then certified through a program such as Love On A Leash (LOAL).
Love On A Leash is a non-profit designed to provide a framework and certification for people to provide pet therapy to others. But first, it’s recommended that candidates first pass the American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizen program—the gold standard for dog behavior.
Corinne Grodski, administrative specialist to the executive director of Duke Cancer Institute, and her dog Tipton, an 8-year-old Jack Russell terrier mix, are currently training to become a Pets at Duke therapy team.
“We’ve passed the Canine Good Citizen test,” said Grodski, who with Tipton began training and testing in May. “We are now in the process of completing 10 instructor-supervised visits through Love On A Leash. Once certified, we hope to advance to Pets At Duke where we will undergo specified training and certification for visiting Duke patients.”
Kristy Everette shared that the Pets At Duke program will expand in the future to offer “on demand” therapy sessions. Rather than waiting for one of the program’s scheduled visit, on demand services will enable patients to request a visit from a furry friend virtually any time of day. Everette expects the on demand services to launch next year.
To learn more about the responsible owners and well-mannered dogs, visit Canine Good Citizen. For more information dog therapy certification, visit Love On A Leash. And to learn more about pet therapy at Duke, visit Pets At Duke.