For some, therapy is going to the dogs

October 26, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Domino licked hands.

Paige nuzzled.

Buddy was the most placid of pooches.

Each of the four dogs - and one cat - that padded through the halls of Julia Manor Health Care Center on Thursday provided its own brand of pick-me-up.

Which is just what the pets' handlers did: picked them up, and placed them in waiting laps where patients gladly welcomed them.


As a group, the animals were walking therapy.

Every so often, Our Furry Friends, a pet therapy group based in Berkeley County, W.Va., visits area nursing homes, hospitals, adult day care programs and the like. Petting the dogs and the cat seems to elicit smiles and happy chatter from people whose medical conditions dominate their daily lives.

Shirley Taylor, Diana Manor and Wreatha Wageley started Our Furry Friends in 1998. Taylor and Wageley still are involved.

On Thursday, Taylor and her husband, Jim, of Falling Waters, W.Va., brought their three Shetland sheepdogs - Morning Glory, 13; Paige, 6; and Domino, 4.

Wageley, also of Falling Waters, brought Buddy, her 5-year-old terrier mix.

The dogs were joined by the Taylors' Himalayan mix cat, Pequita.

For 90 minutes, the Taylors, Wageley, Our Furry Friends member Sharon Britner and Julia Manor activities director Cheryl Gross led the animals from a rehabilitation room to a cafeteria to patient rooms, with lengthy stays at each stop.

Pat Salvino hurried her wheelchair to the cafeteria when she heard. Dogs? A cat? Really?

"I haven't seen my dog since I had my operation in May," Salvino said, tears dropping down her cheeks.

She got her mixed-breed dog, Buddy, from a shelter about 10 years ago, after her husband died.

Salvino shares her apartment in Funkstown with her dog. She hopes to move into the Loyalton assisted living community, where she and Buddy may stay together.

"I'm waiting for an opening," she said.

Tearful reception

Salvino patted Paige briefly before the dog moved on. After several minutes of animal mingling, someone noticed Salvino's interest - need, actually - to hold a dog. Paige soon was on her lap.

The first time the Taylors took their Shelties to a health care center, "a woman burst into tears!" Shirley Taylor called out to the cafeteria crowd.

Salvino laughed and sniffed.

"That's me," she said.

People in the cafeteria reached over the sides of their wheelchairs to pet the animals. Some eyed the Furry Friends cautiously. A few people napped.

Pet therapy doesn't cure ailments or eliminate pain, but it sometimes cuts, momentarily, through the fog of dementia or the tedium of recovery.

"People that don't ever react, react to a pet," Gross said. "They love it."

Jim Taylor remembered a girl with cerebral palsy who didn't speak. But when a dog arrived, she'd call out its name.

"It helps the staff, too," Wageley said. "If they're having a bad day, they'll say, 'Oh, thanks for the therapy.' "

Shirley Taylor said she's getting old and dreads the day she might have to give up her animals. She knows that people living less freely than they're accustomed to must feel the same way.

"People are missing their dogs ...," she said. "Some people it means so much to, you have to do it."

Dogs in costume

Thursday's visit had a late-October twist: The four dogs wore Halloween costumes.

"Glory is usually a witch," Shirley Taylor said as she fussed over her oldest Sheltie, in preparation for the rounds. "I think it's time for her to be something different."

She pulled a colorful clown hat from a plastic bag, along with a matching skirt-like ring for the dog's midsection.

Paige wore a pink, pointed princess hat and matching cape.

A devil in the past, Domino had on an orange pumpkin cape.

"They put up with it with scant good grace," Taylor said.

Buddy wore a painter's smock, covered with fake paint splotches, and a blue cap. The outfit recently won him a first-place award at PetSmart.

There was no such adornment for Pequita, who outdid herself merely by allowing Gross to carry the cat in her arms through the halls.

The dogs - and Pequita - were on leashes. But the leashes could be dropped, and sometimes were, because the animals didn't wander far.

In the rehabilitation room, Mary Faulder was glad when a handler helped Glory lift her front paws onto Faulder's lap.

Lorraine McDonald, who's recovering from a broken hip, got a turn, too. Paige laid on McDonald's lap afghan and rested her head on McDonald's leg.

"Oh, you're going to go to sleep," McDonald whispered. "I'm going home next week. Do you want to go with me?"

Pet lovers

In the cafeteria, Pequita curled for several minutes on Admer Sweeney's lap. Sweeney, who turned 100 on Sept. 1, said she has had pets all her life.

Jim Taylor offered to remove Pequita, but Sweeney wasn't ready. The cat was too satisfied to be disrupted.

"I guess he knows I love him," she said.

Domino stopped to lick Frances Hellane's palm.

"He likes lotion on your hands - or anything you ate at breakfast," Shirley Taylor said.

Hellane, a widow, said she loves "anything that has four legs."

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