Dogs of all breeds offer comfort to cancer patients

Published6/30/2008 12:25 AM

Therapy dogs aren't the only canines that affect the lives of patients in rehab or nursing homes. House pets have a profound effect, too.

Consider the parade that passed my room in the past few days. They represented just about all groups and breeds seen at AKC shows every year.


Most weren't special breeds, but nobody cared about that and their presence brought people out of rooms to greet them.

The smaller specimens included bichons and Maltese, some purebred and some mixed with Yorkshires. These little characters don't mind being plopped on the beds of strangers and they'll even tolerate being held for a short while.

On the end of leashes fastened to collars or harnesses, they single-mindedly pull their people to rooms to visit "Daddy" or "Mommy." Medium-sized canines, like two bearded collies a few rooms away, are more of a challenge to control, but they take strange sounds and smells in stride as humans struggle to keep up the pace.

One rare breed needed only a little encouragement to struggle onto the foot of my bed. A fawn-colored Chinese shar pei, this character liked going pink nose to human nose to "snorfle" its way into my heart.

The funniest mixes are those with "doodle" attached to their breed names. They are not allowed at AKC shows, but they are warmly welcomed by patients. Apricot or chocolate labradoodles stand patiently as hands reach out to stroke short curly coats, long tails and poodle-like faces. They don't regard wheelchairs or walkers in any way strange. And they enjoy fixing large dark eyes filled with love on patients as an extra bonus.

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One long-coated German shepherd followed the conversations among people, gazing from speaker to speaker. He was fond of sleeping with Granny and her oxygen tank, but had to wait until she returned home to resume that habit. He loved to place his front paws on patients' legs, even after reminders that went way beyond simple commands. "That is not acceptable behavior," scolded one of his humans, and the legs went down until his need to touch got the best of him.

I told him to pay no attention to silly directions and he happily placed his legs back on mine. The effect lasted for days.

Ruth Gesmer Silverman of Buffalo Grove learned in March 2007 that her breast cancer, originally diagnosed in 2002, had spread to her bones. Her column about living with the disease appears every other week in Health & Fitness.

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