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Animal-assisted therapy on the rise

August 17, 2008 7:26:23 AM PDT
New volunteers and their furry friends are now in demand.Last August, Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights brought in dogs to help improve patients healing.

It has been such a success, they are expanding the program.

Twenty-nine dogs and handler teams have made more than 5,000 visits to the hospital's patients.

Four-year-old Lazer and his owner, Donald Lang, were visiting Phyllis Parlee.

"I'm only here for an hour of infusion three times a week, but it really perks up the hour I must say," Parlee said.

Lang, a veterinarian, got involved after seeing a flyer about the program.

"I had been thinking about getting Lazer into a program like this, setting it up on my own. So it kind of fell in my lap. It was just perfect timing because he's such a wonderful dog, so friendly, so outgoing. So I said, 'Well, I should share his love.' So it was just a perfect opportunity," Lang said.

Lang is also a good role model for patients.

"I have a disease called Sharko Marie Tooth Disease. It's a neuromuscular disorder, so I have atrophy of the muscles in my hands. They don't open all the way. I kind of have to lift my feet, walk a little funny, but you know, I get from point A to point B and that's all I need to do to take him where he needs to go," Lang said.

The person behind Northwest's animal assisted therapy program is Diane Colville, manager of cardiopulmonary rehab.

"Because I truly believe in the human-animal bond, and the benefits that animals can provide to all. All people - patients, staff, everyone, and I felt very motivated and very compelled to try to bring this program to Northwest Community Hospital," said Colville.

It takes a special dog to be qualified for the program.

"Because the dogs need to be able to be really very, very obedient to be able to participate in the program. Only about 30 to 40 percent who come through the temperament evaluation are invited to participate in the training," said Colville.

Six-year-old Chaucer is a pro. He started visiting nursing home patients when he was 12 weeks old. His handler, David McCallum, says Chaucer takes his job seriously.

"When I turn into the hospital parking lot, Chaucer starts barking and whining and is ready to go and standing up. As soon as I open the door, he jumps out. So he loves to come here, and because I love it too, because I get to talk to patients and find out. Everybody like dogs and it's just a wonderful experience," said McCallum.

Like Lang, McCallum also has a disability.

"They have a lot of walking to do here at the hospital, and that's not easiest thing for them. And yet they want to give back of their time to help other people, and we were so impressed with them," said Colville.

This is only the beginning.

"We're trying to add another 15 teams to be able to expand to three more units, few more teams and then we'll be able to be hospital wide. Our goal is to be able to visit in every unit," said Colville.

If you are interested in getting involved with Northwest Community Hospital's assisted therapy program, call 847-618-7968 or go to http://nch.org/animalassist


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