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Just what the doctor ordered -- puppy love



Published: Thu, September 20, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Large dogs walk up and put their heads on hospital bedsor the patients' lap.

By WILLIAM K. ALCORN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Vickie, bathed, well coifed and rear end a waggin', is part of a new group of volunteers whose sole goal is to improve the health of patients at St. Elizabeth Health Center.

Vickie is a 3-year-old black, standard poodle trained as a therapy pet.

Along with several other amazing canines, ranging in size from a relatively small springer spaniel to a massive, 201-pound English mastiff, Vickie spent time Wednesday on St. Elizabeth's eighth floor general nursing unit generating smiles all around from both staff and patients.

The dogs just don't walk around ... they really relate. The large pooches put their heads on the beds or the laps of the patients to be petted. Smaller dogs are put within reach on chairs or held by the patients. When dogs have been in the program a year, they can actually be placed on the patient's bed.

It is all the choice of the patient. Some people don't like dogs and don't want them in the room and some are leery of large dogs, Fink said.

"I think it's very nice," said Barbara DiRienzo of Campbell. "When you're in the hospital, all you've got is television and doctors and nurses. It's great for the patients," she said of the dogs' visits.

Sandra Traylor, also of Campbell, said it "was a great thing. It takes a person's mind off their health issues." Traylor, who has sickle cell anemia, said she has been having pain in her legs. "But the dogs give such a warm welcome it really uplifted my day; they enable you to forget. It's a nice break," Traylor said.

"I love it," said another patient, Louie Novakovic of Niles. "It made me feel better and relaxed me a little bit," he said with a big smile.

Hospital officials hope the dogs, who along with their handlers represent the start of a new volunteer program at St. Elizabeth, elicit the same positive response from other patients.

Therapy: The handlers and dogs at Wednesday's hospital visit are part of an Akron pet therapy group, Prescription: DOG LOVE, which has operated for a decade out of Summa Health System in Akron.

Prescription: DOG LOVE, affiliated with Delta Society, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving human health through service and therapy animals, will mentor the fledgling Youngstown area group for a year.

Prescription: DOG LOVE has been a model for 16 programs in several states, including Pennsylvania, Texas, Georgia, New Jersey and Illinois, and in Australia, said Beth Fink, its president.

Katie Squibbs of Hubbard, Vickie's handler, will coordinate the local program, K-9s for Compassion. Anyone interested in the program and in learning how to qualify themselves and their dogs may contact Squibbs at (330) 534-2001 or the volunteer department at St. Elizabeth, (330) 480-3364.

The dogs must pass a 19-part Delta Society evaluation for skills, aptitude, health and appropriateness, and handlers must attended an eight-hour orientation class, Fink said.




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