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Woman, dog form therapy team

January 23, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN

marlob@herald-mail.com

When Kate Collins and Marley enter Washington County Hospital, heads turn and people perk up. What makes that so remarkable is that many of those heads belong to head trauma patients who are in therapy to improve their mobility.

Collins is a hospital volunteer and Marley is a 6-year-old black labrador retriever. Together, they form a certified therapy dog team that "works" the sixth floor at the hospital.

"Marley actually belongs to my daughter, Kristen Cochran," Collins said. Before Cochran moved to Hagerstown with Marley, they performed similar therapy services at Shepherd Pratt Hospital in Baltimore.

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While the phenomenon of pets visiting nursing homes and hospitals isn't new, the concept of therapy dogs is a rather recent innovation in Washington County, said Collins, who got certified with Marley in the Therapy Dogs International organization.

"I took a test, while Marley was evaluated for working in a hospital setting," Collins said.

That included familiarizing him with noisy hospital carts, crowds, sudden startles and unexpected smells for example.

Collins added to Marley's experiences by exposing him to shopping centers, escalators and elevators, other dogs and airplanes.

In addition to making sure Marley is safe to be around patients, Collins also must make sure that Marley is safe from such injury as having his tail or foot run over by a wheelchair.

Marley often travels around the hospital on a wheelchair, Collins said.

"Many patients in therapy are on their backs and have trouble getting close enough to a dog on the floor," she said. When Marley is on a wheelchair, the patients can more readily see and touch him.

Therapy often involves simple catch-and-release exercises. Many patients have a "weak side" and Marley is trained to return balls to that side which forces the patient to use that side, Collins said.

Marley and Collins are not only in the patients' rooms, they also can be present with the hospital therapists in the therapy regimen, Collins said.

In many cases, Marley gives patients something to focus on, which is a major effort for head trauma patients, Collins said.

"The acceptance by patients and staff has made this work," Collins said, noting that she and Marley are in the hospital at least once a week.

Collins, 58, currently works part time for the U.S. Census Bureau. She worked full time for 18 years with IBM.

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