Baltimore, Maryland Therapy Dogs Make a Difference

 |  Jan 24th 2007  |   3 Contributions


Gunner at work.jpg

Thanks to North County News for this article.

Therapy dogs bring joy to those in pain
By Bob Allen

Dr. Samuel Lumpkin, a retired physician, and his wife, Sandra, a speech pathologist, don't bring stethoscopes or blood pressure wraps when they make rounds at Greater Baltimore Medical Center's Acute Care for the Elderly Unit and the nearby Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care.


Instead, the White Hall couple bring their two beloved dogs, Gunner, a perky little 4-year-old poodle and Tucket, a big, laid-back 11-year-old Labrador retriever.

Gunner and Tucket are therapy dogs trained and certified three years ago through a program called the Delta Society's Pet Partners. The therapy they bring to patients recovering from, or in some cases, succumbing to serious illnesses isn't measured in diastolic pressure or white blood cell counts.

It's measured in smiles, laughter, caresses and moments of warmth and affection that are often a welcome respite from intense physical and emotional pain.

"It's so rewarding just to see the almost spontaneous joy when someone sees the dogs," Sandra Lumpkin, 59, said as she and her husband made their once-a-week rounds with Gunner and Tucket at the Gilchrist Center one recent afternoon.

"People relax, and as they pet the dogs they often start talking or reminiscing, and sometimes things come out that the staff didn't know before," said Lumpkin, who practices speech pathology at Ear Nose and Throat Associates, a GBMC-affiliated practice started by her husband 40 years ago.

"One lady had been almost nonverbal and her staff didn't even know she could talk," Lumpkin added. "As soon as we walked in, she said, 'Oh, my gosh, look at the dogs!' She was happy."

One recent recipient of Tucket's and Gunner's attention was Lochearn resident Grace Butler, 76, who was a patient at the Gilchrist Center and had just come off dialysis as part of her treatment for diabetes and congestive heart failure.

"I was kind of restless this morning, but the dogs are soothing," Butler said as she lay in bed, holding and petting Tucket. "This little one reminds me of my own dog that I had for quite a while."

This is the sort of reaction the Lumpkins hope for when they make the rounds with their dogs. Study after study has shown what animal lovers already intuitively understand: Animals often bring out people's best emotions and foster feelings of warmth, nurturing and affection.

For acutely ill hospital patients, a visit from a friendly, responsive dog or cat can provide a temporary diversion from pain.

"It's been proven scientifically that it's very relaxing and soothing to pet an animal," said Tricia Ryan, volunteer supervisor at Gilchrist.

"It's invaluable to have Gunner and Tucker here," Ryan said. "The obvious benefit is it offers a distraction for patients and their families who are coping with a terminal illness. You can see people's faces light up when they see Gunner and Tucker coming down the hall."

The Lumpkins had their dogs trained and certified through National Capital Therapy Dogs, Inc., a nonprofit organization that coordinates training programs and sends teams of dogs and their owners to the National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins Children's House, Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Sheppard Pratt Health System and similar institutions in the Baltimore- Washington area, northern Virginia and Delaware.

National Capital Therapy Dogs Inc. is a regional affiliate of Delta Society Pet Partners, which has trained and certified about 9,000 pet-owner teams nationwide.

The National Capital Therapy Dogs certification program is thorough, and not every dog can pass muster.

For starters, the dog must be at least a year old. At the end of the training program, the dog must respond to basic commands and not bark or be startled by loud noises, strange smells or other distractions.

The Lumpkins are one of three sets of National Capital Therapy dog-owner teams that regularly visit Gilchrist.

At the request of a physician the Lumpkins encountered at Gilchrist, they also started making twice-a-month visits to GBMC's Acute Care for the Elderly Unit shortly after it opened last year.

"We're looking for more teams to visit the ACE Unit as well," she said.

For the Lumpkins, bringing just a little bit of joy to the lives of people who need it is the emotional payoff.

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