Dog with Jobs: Pet Therapy: February 3, 2012

This was cancer survivor Bill Stephenson’s first day of therapy. He is working to regain his ability to swallow.

“There’s an anxiety factor that you know you wonder ‘why do I have to do this, why am I going to have this thing on my neck?’ and it’s tingling away at me.”

As electrodes pulsate his throat muscles, he found a little stress reliever. She was sitting right beside him, her name is Daisy and she’s a therapy dog.

“I’ve had patients that are highly anxious when we put the electrical stimulus on them and they won’t let you go up past a certain point cause they’re complaining that it hurts and so forth. She’ll sit in the chair next to them and they pet her and they don’t pay any attention to what we have going on,” says Stacey Brill, a swallowing therapist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Stacey is Daisy’s owner. During the day, she shares her with rehab staff and at Gulf Coast Medical Center.

“She’ll go into the hospital visit patients that are sick in bed but the staff in the hospital and the staff here in the clinic just get a big kick out of it.”

Nationwide, therapy dogs are welcomed by medical professionals who find their patients may require less pain medications and are generally happier.

Daisy is not only a friend but a fellow cancer survivor, something that cements the bond between her and the patients.

“I saw the scar on her hip and said ‘oh’ you know she’s a cancer survivor too? And I said ‘oh great’. Then she got up and starting licking my leg and from then on I started scratching her and then she came over here and laid down and just laid there. Don’t look at me like that,” says Stephenson.

In fact, Daisy overcame cancer twice. The first time it was in her jaw.

“That’s what I treat, the head and neck cancer patients and then she herself was diagnosed with that so she kind of has something in common with my patients,” says Stacey.

Call it life imitating life. Any way you look at it, Daisy and thousands of therapy dogs like her are giving new mean to the phrase ‘creature comfort’.