Therapy Shelter Dogs--Rescuing Dogs, Saving People

Finn--Therapy Shelter Dog

My son had a brain tumor removed on Halloween of this year.  His recovery was complicated by numerous seizures which kept him in the ICU for 8 days.   He was on a great deal of sedating medications to suppress his seizures so he remembers very little of his stay in the ICU except for a visit by a therapy shelter dog named Finn.

I stayed with my son in the ICU every day except for an hour in the morning and evening when no visitors were allowed. Each day that passed, I saw him become sadder and sadder.  The love between a parent and their child/children is indescribable.  While I love my husband, parents, siblings, family and friends; I cannot put into words the love I have for my sons.  Washington Irving said it best-- “There is an enduring tenderness in the love of a mother to a son that transcends all other affections of the heart.”  Watching my son suffer tormented me because I felt helpless.  I needed to figure out what I could do to bring some pleasure into his life even if it were for only a short time.

My son saw a dog walking in the ICU early in his recovery.  He asked his nurse why a dog was in the unit.  She told him that the ICU has a program where dogs come in once a week to those that would like a visit.  My son loves dogs.  Even though he was not on the "visit" list, the dog did come to his room. Unfortunately, the dog was only allowed to walk next to my son’s bed and could not even be petted.  I know the dog's trainer thought that just seeing the dog would make my son happy; instead, it felt like a cruel joke to him.

It became my mission to have a therapy dog visit my son.  I had to make this happen not only for him but for me; I needed to feel that I could do something to help him.  Even though dog visits only occur once a week, I was not going to let this small fact stop me from my goal.  I asked every nurse, doctor, secretary---actually, anyone wearing a name tag in the ICU, how we could set up a visit from a therapy dog.  It took 3 days of constant pestering (DO NOT MESS WITH A MOTHER ON A MISSION FOR HER CHILD) that my son was finally going to be able to have his wish come true.

Prior to the visit that day, the company that trains therapy dogs called me.  The company explained that the therapy dog visiting my son was a dog that was rescued from a shelter and trained specifically to comfort those that need it.  These visits can be done in hospitals, nursing homes, etc., with the goal being to comfort and lift the spirits of those in need.  They asked me if it were okay to film the interaction between the therapy dog, our son, and our family for a documentary to be aired on PBS in March of 2013. Shelter Me, produced by Steven Latham, was a documentary series last year about shelter pets improving the lives of those that adopted them (here is the preview  from YouTube "SHELTER ME - Improving lives, one shelter pet at a time). Steven Latham was now working on his second series about shelter dogs being trained as therapy dogs.

I asked my son if he would be agreeable to filming the visit.  I did not want my son to be self conscious because of how he looked with his hair shaven and his incision.  On the contrary, he was not only excited that a dog was coming to visit him; but thrilled that he could be part of a documentary.  He felt if he was fortunate enough to have a shelter therapy dog come and visit him and give him comfort and joy; others should experience this too.

Finn, a large white Great Pyrenees/Lab mix, slowly walked into my son's ICU room.  I looked at my son and he was smiling ear to ear.  Finn jumped on his bed, laid down next to him, and my son gave Finn a hug, petted him, and fed him Cheerios. My son was finally happy for the first time in a week.  I cried, but for the first time in 10 days, these were tears of joy.

The crew took a lot of video and photographs of the visit and then Steven Latham interviewed my son.   He asked my son if the visit was helpful to him.  They did not have to ask my son that question; just looking at his face illustrated 1000 words---pure elation and contentment.  The interview lasted about 15 minutes and the crew, trainer, and Finn all left.  My son thanked me for making his wish come true--doesn't he know I would have moved Earth to make his dream come true. We still talk about Finn and how it was a turning point in my son's recovery.  I am so thankful that someone rescued Finn because it was Finn who in turn rescued my son from his pain, fears, and sadness.  I hope this documentary will encourage others to rescue a dog from a shelter; you may be surprised who saves whom.

Here are the previous links regarding my son's brain tumor crisis as seen through my eyes.  My Journey to Clarity--The BeginningMy Journey to Clarity--Brain Surgery, and My Journey to Clarity--My Son's Recovery.  He is doing very well now and we are thankful everyday for his continued recovery.

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    Nancy Chodash

    I am a nurse practitioner who not only treats patients, but has had chronic illnesses including cancer so I understand how frustrating medicine can be. But through all this, I have never lost my sense of humor and my ability to make people laugh. I love to cook, and since becoming gluten-free a year ago, I have recipes for everyone's tastes whether it be healthy, decadent, vegetarian, or gluten-free. My philosophy is all about health, food, laughter and life!

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