Many of our dogs have gone on to do volunteer hospital work helping patients to heal.
by: Kristin Morin/YourHub.com
Jordan Hunter, 22, of Wyo. give Luke a kiss during a visit Sept. 24.
Provided by: Kristin Morin
Article Contributed on: 10/9/2008 9:36:38 AM
You don't necessarily need a white lab coat to make the patients at The Children's Hospital, 13123 E. 16th Ave., feel better.
Luke does it in a maroon sweater vest and polka dot bow tie. Of course with his hairy face, stream of tricks and occasional wet kisses it's not surprising that he leaves a trail of smiles behind his wagging tail.
Luke, a four-year-old Portuguese Water Dog, is one of 44 active pups on the hospital's Prescription Pet Program, also known as RxPets, a nearly 25-year-old award-winning program that uses dog-therapy to help in psychiatric and physical rehabilitation.
"You really have to commit because the kids that know the program start to count on it," said Peggy Kelley, Luke's owner.
Each dog in the program visits the hospital twice a month to spread puppy love to those who may be in need of furry cheer.
"This is the highlight of everyday," said Rebecca Valencia, of Loveland.
Valencia's daughter, Alejandra, 11, spent weeks in the hospital with back pain before being diagnosed and qualifying for experimental medication for her condition.
"I like it when they come in because then it's not so lonesome in here," Alejandra said.
Alejandra, who wants to become a volunteer herself when she gets better, laughed and fed Luke treats as he performed a rundown of his popular tricks, high-five, roll over, play dead, dance and catching a squishy soccer ball.
"She wasn't really thinking about her back when the dog was there," Kelley said after leaving Alejandra's room and heading toward the next door in the hall.
Besides volunteering, Kelley is also an ear, nose and throat surgeon at the hospital.
"It's actually more complicated to be a volunteer at this hospital than it is to be a surgeon," Kelley said.
There is currently a three-year waiting list for volunteers to join RxPets. Potential volunteers undergo FBI background checks, their dogs must pass medical and behavioral exams and must be re-examined every six months and dogs need to be bathed within 48 hours of coming to the hospital. and once accepted, it takes volunteers four visits before they can enter patient rooms alone.
"It was a six month process to be cleared all the way through," Kelley said.
During each visit, Kelley knocks on patient doors and asks them if they would like a dog visit. Some doors are off-limits because of patient allergies or respiratory complications. Although there are restrictions, there are still plenty of stops Kelley and Luke can make.
"I love having dogs around, I love dogs," said Shelby Lewis, 10, of Lakewood. "I'm glad I woke up for this."
Shelby is thought to have juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and was sick for three weeks before coming to the hospital.
After entertaining and some serious petting, Kelley passed Shelby Luke's business card. All the program dogs have their own cards and patients collect them.
"This is the most she's smiled, it's awesome," said Mary Lewis, Shelby's mother.
Besides being beneficial to the patients, the dog visits also help keep up the family's spirits too, Kelley said.
RxPets sent its first paw through the door in 1984 and is hoping to continuing growing, including more dogs and more floors of the hospital, Kelley said.
One floor Sandra Friesenhahn, of Aurora, is hoping will be included is the oncology floor. Friesenhahn's son, Richard, had cancer and they were in the hospital for an extended period, even over Christmas last year.
"Some of the kids practically live there," Friesenhahn said. "It makes a huge difference for them to even be able to just hug the dogs."