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Monday Evening

Newfoundland Therapy Dogs

Gryffin, Sara, Lucy, Noah, and Adam (left to right) work as therapy dogs with
High Country members at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado.


by Ron Horn
reprinted from NewfTide 1Q 2009

It is 6:30 on Monday evening, and the High Country Newfoundland Club’s Therapy Dogs are gathering at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado, as they have every Monday evening for the past 24 years. Tonight five owners and their dogs have traveled up to 150 miles roundtrip to see the patients and their families. Craig was one of the first hospitals in the United States to make dogs a part of their treatment program. Maybe our dogs are one of the reasons it is one of the premiere hospitals in the country dealing with traumatic brain and spinal injuries.

Tonight ends up being a very special evening because three of our patients show us they have regained some ability to stand or take a few steps. It is particularly special considering all three patients were told they would never walk again immediately following their injuries. The dogs seem to know something special has happened as they see their patients out of a wheelchair for the first time.

High Country Newfoundland Club’s involvement with Craig’s patients goes well beyond our Monday night visits. The hospital regularly schedules special outings for the patients to attend our club’s water and draft tests. When one of the therapy dogs is testing, you can be certain there will be much cheering from the patients. The test will be the talk of the hospital the following Monday night. Our patients also occasionally even make it to the dog shows and the breed ring where they cheer on their favorite therapy dog.

Brain injury patients can be very agitated and combative. Their beds are often surrounded by tall padded walls, which protect the patient from injury. It is also necessary for some patients to wear special clothing that protects them from injuring themselves or the staff. Newfoundlands seem to understand this situation and are willing to accept the different surroundings. After a few minutes with the dogs, many of these patients become much calmer. Often physical restraints can be removed so the patient can pet the dog. One former brain injury patient, who now works as a volunteer at the hospital, says that some of her earliest memories after the accident were of the Newfoundlands that came to visit her.

We are always evaluating our work at the hospital in hopes of providing even better service. Sometimes the best information comes by accident. One day I was walking one of my dogs at a hotel in southern New Mexico when a car pulled up. The lady in the passenger seat rolled down her window and said, “I know you and I know your dog.” It turned out the woman was a former Craig patient. She spent the next several minutes telling me how important the Newfoundlands had been in her recovery and thanking me for the service we provide.

Craig Hospital is a place of great energy. Most patients are people who led very active lives until, in a brief instant, an accident occurred that changed their future dramatically. The energy comes from the patients who work harder than most of us can imagine to regain as much of their former mobility or brain function as possible. The energy also comes from a staff that is dedicated to their patients. The Newfs who visit the hospital are an important part of the process of returning to active lives.

 

 

 

reprinted from 1Q NewfTide 2009 pp 11- 21

 

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