Hillman Cancer Center Honors Four-Legged Therapy Friends

By: Madison Brunner

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Fourteen therapy dogs gathered on the patio of the Hillman Cancer Center June 10 for the first UPMC Pet Therapy Recognition Event. The therapy dog meet-and-greet allowed staff, volunteers and patients to show their thanks to the loyal four-legged friends.

Pet therapy is proven to improve mood and reduce stress in patients who are going through difficult treatments. All 18 dogs in the pet therapy program have been through extensive training and are certified to be around crowds and small children.

Courtney Borntraeger is a volunteer who founded the pet therapy program 26 years ago. Her inspiration for the program stemmed from her sister’s battle with cancer. When Borntraeger would visit the hospital, she noticed the doctor always had a therapy dog that was able to put a smile on her sister’s face.

Borntraeger’s dog, Tillie, has been a therapy dog for 10 years.

“I once walked into a waiting room to find a woman crying in the corner,” Borntraeger said as she recalled her and Tillie’s most rewarding experience as volunteers. “Tillie ran over and jumped up, putting her paws on the wheelchair, and by the end of the patient’s time with Tillie she was laughing.”

The dogs are very happy to be therapy volunteers, Borntraeger added. Since they have been trained to be in large crowds, they do not get stressed out or overwhelmed.

Volunteer coordinator Laurin Bucki said the program wouldn’t be possible without the devotion of all the hardworking volunteers. From a Shih Tzu to a 130-pound Newfoundland, all therapy dogs are able to bring cheer to patients.

“No matter what shape or size, the dogs always put a smile on the patients face and help relieve pain,” Bucki said.

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