With the popular 2010 song “Who Let the Dogs Out?” by the Baha Men playing in the background, 18 certified pet therapy dogs and their owners recently gathered at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside for the 2nd annual Pet Therapy Appreciation Day.
Top honors went to Tillie, a 12-year-old black Labrador retriever, who was the first dog to enter the pet therapy program at UPMC Hillman five-and-a-half years ago. To date, Tillie has clocked more than 350 volunteer hours. For that, she received a special “Silver Paw Award.”
While the dogs focus on patients, staff members and visitors each time they volunteer at UPMC Hillman, this time, they were the center of attention. Every dog was given a special “doggie bag” filled with treats and toys. After a group photo, they headed to the outside patio for a special treat of doggie ice cream.
“These animals offer our patients comfort in ways that medicine cannot,” said Laurin Scanlon, volunteer coordinator at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. “Our patients form special relationships with the dogs and know them by name. They often ask for them when they arrive for treatment.”
“When I retired, I knew that Mootie and I needed to do this,” owner Harriet Moses said. “When we visit and the patients get tears in their eyes, I know we are making a difference.”
UPMC has 25 certified pet therapy dogs who visit patients at four UPMC hospitals, including UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. The dogs must be certified in pet therapy, be at least a year old, and undergo “new employee” orientation before they’re given their UPMC volunteer badge.
The dogs are as unique as any population, ranging in age, size, breed and personality. Most are Labrador or golden retrievers, and some come in pairs, like Frankie and Cory, retired Greyhound race dogs, or Mosie and Hava, Portuguese water dogs who can do a few tricks with their owner. Olive is a 130-pound Newfoundland, who trades visits with her brother, Sherman.
For Ben Lear, owner of 4-year-old Annie, the experience is personal.
“I, myself, am a cancer survivor, and my sister is a current patient,” said Lear. “I feel it’s a privilege and an honor for Annie and I to be part of this team at Hillman. I truly value the experience and seeing how the patients interact with Annie.”
UPMC Hillman Cancer Center would welcome additional therapy dogs. Those interested can call Laurin Scanlon at 412-623-4636, or for more information on this or other volunteer opportunities at UPMC, click here.