Service dogs provide comfort to chemotherapy patients

Baylor College of Medicine

On her second-to-last day of months  worth of chemotherapy treatment, Galvestonian June Merrell knew she was in for a long day at the Baylor Infusion Center. But her long day – treatment from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – quickly brightened up with a surprise visit from Sadie, a golden retriever and pet therapy dog.

Sadie is part of a pet therapy program called Faithful Paws sponsored by Bellaire United Methodist Church. Through the program, a team of organized volunteers train animals to administer unconditional love and therapy to adults and children in nursing homes or hospitals.

“I am a dog lover so I enjoyed my visit with Sadie. It was a highlight in my long day of treatment,” said Merrell who was diagnosed with cancer in October.

At the end of the month, Merrell will finish her regimen of chemotherapy and ring the ceremonious bell signaling completion of her journey.

Like Merrell, most patients find comfort in the Faithful Paws visits at the Baylor Clinic.

“The patients have had a really positive response to the service dogs,” said Samantha Khan, manager of the Baylor Infusion Center. “We had a new patient that started her chemotherapy on one of the days that the therapy dogs were visiting. One of the dogs stopped at that patient's chair and crawled into the patient's lap and laid her head on her chest. The patient really felt like the dog sensed her fear and knew that she needed comfort that day.”

The staff really looks forward to seeing the dogs as well, even physicians come back and visit the dogs, said Khan. “I think it has been therapeutic for all of us.”