A New Meaning to Man’s Best Friend

This story was featured in the Spring 2012 issue of Rex Healthcare Foundation’s newsletter Inspire.

Last fall, three very special certified pet therapy dogs participated in a six-month pilot program called Fur Friends. The program consisted of therapy dogs visiting with oncology patients, once a week at Rex Hospital. During the pilot, dogs visited with 47 patients providing a change of daily hospital routine, relieving stress and bringing joy and smiles to patients, visitors and co-workers. The program was an amazing success!

Ruby Sue, a hound-mix breed and co-worker Doug Poe, her handler, were the first to volunteer their time. Upon arriving to the oncology unit, Doug and Ruby Sue received a list of patients who were awaiting their visit. Everyone on the unit was excited to bring this type of therapy to patients. Studies show that aside from improving morale of patients, regular animal contact can also reduce anxiety in cancer patients. The Fur Friends Program has also proven this to be true.

The first patient that received a Fur Friend’s visit was an older gentleman, weak and very sick with cancer. His family was visiting him and had requested the pet visit in hopes that it would lift his sprits. Doug then positioned Ruby Sue on the bed next to the patient. It was almost as if she knew what the patient needed. She snuggled her way towards him, as he sat on the side of the bed. At first, it was unclear if he was enjoying the visit, and then it happened…he smiled. And then his daughter smiled. It was so contagious that everyone present began to smile, and there was not a dry eye in the room. Soon enough, the patient was patting Ruby Sue’s fur and posing for pictures. After the visit, Doug and Ruby Sue left the room knowing that the program was off to a great start.

Many patients find the company of a pet relaxing and uplifting. During visits, patients have a clean sheet over their bed and receive hand sanitizer before and after the visit. Due to the overwhelming success of the program, Fur Friends is already expanding beyond the oncology floor and three new dogs were added in January to other units. “We are thrilled to offer this program to more patients and believe that a visit with a Fur Friend can really be the “best medicine” of all,” said Rex Healthcare Foundation Development Officer Allison Strickland.

With the Fur Friends Program rapidly expanding, more patients can expect to have their day brightened with a pet visit. The therapy dogs will continue to roam the halls of Rex, bringing happiness and peace of mind to patients.

For questions or more information about the Fur Friends program, please contact Sherry Raymond, Rex Healthcare volunteer services coordinator at (919) 784-2297.