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Therapy dogs a welcome sight at hospital

April 12, 2006|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Two visitors to the Chambersburg Hospital garnered a lot of attention from staff and patients alike Tuesday morning.

The certified therapists walked the halls, greeting patients and spreading cheer.

Gentlemen always, they didn't wet the floor, whine or jump on anyone.

Gus, an 8-year-old, 150-pound brindled Great Dane, and Parnell, a 2-year-old Golden Retriever, are certified therapy dogs registered with Therapy Dogs International, (TDI) in Flanders, N.J.

Sharan Carbaugh of Chambersburg, Gus's owner, has been visiting Chambersburg Hospital with him for about six years, she said, first through the transitional care department, then with volunteer services.

Chip Uncapher of St. Thomas, Pa., owns Parnell. They've been coming to the facility for about a year.

"Parnell is into attention," Uncapher said. "I tell the patients that he doesn't get any at home and that's why he's here - he has five floors of a captive audience."

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The dogs provide emotional therapy in the rehab, pediatric and behavioral health units, their owners said, adding that they stop at the nurse's station first to ask if there are any patients who might enjoy a visit from the dog. Most patients say yes.

Dogs must meet stringent testing requirements to be certified by TDI, a volunteer organization dedicated to regulation, testing and registration of therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers for the purpose of visiting nursing homes, hospitals and other institutions or places where therapy dogs are needed. Founded in 1976, the nonprofit organization has more than 12,000 dogs and 9,500 handlers in its registry.

Gus and Parnell are quiet and well-behaved.

"People tell me how calm he is," Carbaugh said. "I tell them that you have to train them or you'll have monster dogs."

Gus is particularly sensitive to people with severe problems, Carbaugh added.

"He'll shake hands spontaneously and put his head in their lap. I was told by behavioral health staff that Gus got more done in 10 minutes than they did in two weeks."

Parnell is able to scent stress to some degree, Uncapher said.

"He'll let me know where we're going."

The dogs sport pink scarves identifying them as Chambersburg Hospital volunteers. Both are gentle and sociable, perhaps because of the company they keep at home. Parnell lives with six cats, and Gus lives with four other dogs and two parrots.

Tuesday, the two received greetings and caresses from staff members before they even got to the patients.

Upon seeing Gus, patient Gladys Gilbert exclaimed, "Darling, isn't he!" Gus obligingly shook hands and stood still to be patted.

Sitting in the therapy department, patient Nellie Wakefield patted Parnell and talked about her own pets. She has a poodle, a chocolate lab and four cats, all of whom she misses during her hospital stay.

Annie Hannegan, a registered nurse at the hospital, said the dogs give love and are nonthreatening.

"Gus is as mild as you can get. They don't jump up," she said.

The canines bring an atmosphere of trust and love, she added.

"I'm a dog person, and if you're a dog person, your blood pressure goes down, you forget your pain and worries," when there's a dog around.

Not only the patients benefit from the dogs' visits, she said.

"They cheer the nurses up, too."

Dolly Cogan, an LPN, said doctors and nurses tend to forget how important the sense of touch is to patients.

"They pet and touch the animals, and it brings a smile and warm fuzzy feelings," she said.

Carbaugh and Uncapher said they benefit, too.

"The dogs have nothing but love," Carbaugh said. "All the training that went into these dogs is worth it."

After a week at a stressful job, Uncapher says he comes in on Sundays "because it puts a smile on my face. The patients smile, I feel better and Parnell gets attention. Everybody wins."

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