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Therapy dogs bring smiles at Spartanburg hospital

October 8, 2018

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Peggy Crawford recalls a time 20 years ago while she was working at Springbrook Behavioral Health in Travelers Rest when she encountered a boy who hadn’t spoken in seven years.

A trained canine therapy volunteer, she took her dog to visit the boy and he began speaking.

“We haven’t even scratched the surface of what dogs can do,” said Crawford, one of 14 pet therapy volunteers at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.

At Spartanburg Medical Center, dogs indeed have scratched the surface, said Jill Dugaw, hospital system manager of volunteer services.

Long known for their ability to hunt, track, search and rescue and lead the blind, dogs have been found to help provide patients with healing.

Last week, 4-year-old Jason Pruitt got to pet one of the therapy dogs, a Shi Tzu terrier named Zoe, at the hospital’s pediatric rehabilitation center.

Regan Bradley, 3, also paused from his time in the rehab center to pet a few of the small dogs, including a Yorkie Poo terrier and a small fluffy Coton de Tulear dog named Oliver, dogs that volunteers brought with them.

About a dozen volunteers certified by Therapy Dog International have logged 578 hours of time with patients -- that equates to $14,275.66 in services and savings, Dugaw said.

Any given day, a volunteer may be seen walking a small dog through the hallways of the hospital, at a nursing home, in children’s and adult rehabilitation centers, cancer treatment centers, veterans hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, homeless shelters, law enforcement offices, and even funeral homes.

They quickly turn any frowns upside down.

Dugaw said it takes six weeks of specialized dog training in the hospital system for volunteers to get started.

“These dogs are very vetted,” she said.

At Spartanburg Medical Center, the dogs are identified by their red scarves and name tags.

The volunteers own each dog and take great pride in keeping them healthy and happy.

Pam Stevens said family members, doctors, and nurses all get a kick out of seeing a dog in the hallway at the hospital.

“We start walking down the hall and you can see the smiles on their faces,” Stevens said.

“You’ll see tears too,” Crawford added.

Added volunteer Patsy Copeland, “It’s a wonderful ministry for all of us because we bring joy to (patients).”

The volunteers said it brings more than joy and ministry. The interaction with dogs helps patients get better physically as well.

Therapy Dogs International said by increasing one’s happiness, calmness, and emotional well-being, studies have shown a decrease in blood pressure and stress levels. They also provide a break from the daily routine of illness and loneliness.

Crawford said she began working at a hospital in Zanesville, Ohio, 25 years ago and introduced her therapy dog there. The idea was warmly received, and a program was created.

“There was a huge need,” she said.

Crawford and Dugaw said not every patient warms up to a dog, and vice versa.

“When we do a visit, if the dog does not want to go to that person we don’t force them,” Crawford said.

For more details about therapy dogs, visit www.tdi-dog.org.

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Information from: Herald-Journal, http://www.goupstate.com/

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