Therapy Dog!

An Introduction by LeAnn Sawyer

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a therapy dog visit?

I’m LeAnn, an evaluator for Therapy Dogs International, Inc., and I have been active with therapy dogs for 35+ years.

Although I have been involved in many aspects of therapy dog work, and actually did my psychology internship with my therapy dogs in South Carolina, I’ve always been the handler. Patients, family, children, teachers, staff, etc., were always happy to see us and very appreciative of our visits. We were always told thank you and got many smiles, some tears, which were worth every hour of every minute I ever spent on a therapy dog visit. (Of course volunteers know we don’t get paid because we are “priceless”). I had a dear friend Dub, that was an avid hunter and his idea of dogs and mine were at opposite ends until he ended up in the hospital with cancer. After a week or so in the hospital he asked me if I could bring “Scooter”, my Brittany who he hunted with, up to see him. I went through all the appropriate channels at the hospital with all the “I’s” dotted and the “T’s” crossed. Finally it was time to visit Dub in the hospital. Scooter was a crazy, almost uncontrollable Brittany in the field, but when he walked into a facility he knew his job and was excellent at it. He was certified to go into intensive care units as well as just about anywhere else. When we walked into the room that day, I saw a completely different side of Dub. I put Scooter on his bed and as Dub put his arm around Scooter a tear rolled down his face. I will never forget his words; “you have no idea of the feeling this boy has brought to me.” Dub continued to describe the calmness and relaxation he felt. How the visit aided in his pain reduction and made him want to get well.

Dub was right. I was walking out of the pre-operative area at Dixie Regional Hospital. I had just kissed my husband of 44 years as they wheeled him off to surgery. The surgery was not life threatening, but fairly extensive, and of course there is always a risk when you go under anesthesia. This definitely wasn’t his first and won’t be his last. As I walked out of the doors from the pre-op area to the surgical waiting area, there stood two wonderful therapy dogs. In Dub’s words, “you have no idea how those boys made me feel.” The owner and I sat and talked for a while, and then I picked up one of the dogs and put him in my lap. He put up with me for about 45 minutes. Running my hands through his fur is a feeling I will never forget. Therapy dog visits will never be the same for me. Too bad it took 35+ years for me to really understand what effect our visiting teams have on others. I’ve seen it, I’ve seen results, tears, smiles, sighs and many other emotions, but now I have an idea how people really feel.

With Waggin’ Tails