How My Four-Legged Therapist Helped Me Help Others

As a cancer survivor, Allison knows all too well what it feels like to be in a hospital bed, scared and alone. She knows how lucky she is to be where she is today and often struggle with ways which she can help others who are fighting. When Baci, her Shi Tzu Poodle mix came into her life 7 years ago, she found a new way to give back to fighters.

After my cancer treatment, my mom offered to buy me the dog I had been pining for my birthday, so I went to a recommended local shop to do some "research" on possible dogs . When I spotted Baci, it was all over. His eyes (which seemed almost human) peered into mine and it was a done deal.

My #1 Therapist

Baci has been with me through the good, the bad and the ugly. He seems to play off my emotions and always knows what to do. When I am excited, he wags his tail and smiles; when I am upset, he will sit with me on the couch. I can talk to him about my problems and he doesn't judge me or interrupt, he just listens. Plus he doesn't charge a co-pay.

Three years ago, while working at a cancer center in NYC, I heard about a new pet therapy program that was starting. For any patients who were medically able, a dog would visit them in their room. In order to have your pet take part they would need to get certified by a recognized pet therapy organization.

I decided to see if Baci had what it takes to take on some new clients. I enrolled in a pet therapy certification class at Bidawee, a not for profit pet welfare organization located in mid town Manhattan. I soon found out that not all dogs were suited for pet therapy. Not only did your dog have to know basic commands like sit and stay but he or she also had to show no aggression and be predictable. Baci did really well as his temperament is friendly and calm although it took a little more work for him to exercise basic commands without the incentive of a yummy treat. Baci passed his exam and earned his pet therapy certificate through the Delta Society. In 2010 we began to volunteer at the hospital that I work at it.

A Healing Power

I quickly found that pet therapy was rewarding for everyone involved. Seeing a dog walking proudly down the halls of a hospital is surprising and brings a smile to almost everyone we encounter. When we arrive at our assigned floor at the hospital, we visit the nursing staff who now knows Baci well. Baci sits as they fawn over him, taking turns talking to him and complimenting him on his coloring or his smile. He loves every minute of it.

Then we visit the patients. I never know what the patients are going to say, but we are often greeted with "Baci, we heard about you and have been waiting all day!" It should be noted that the patients are always told when we are coming but I know they are still waiting anxiously for Baci's arrival. Sometimes the patients just talk to Baci - we often hear about pets that are missed and waiting for their owner to return home, or childhood pets. Other times there is no talking at all - they pet him and sometimes take pictures of him.

Joy, Comfort & Companionship For All

No matter what, we are always thanked profusely for coming to visit. But it is really I who should be thanking them. No volunteer work comes close to the feeling I get when Baci walks into a patient's room and they begin to smile. I know he is bringing instant joy to these patients and families.

Recently Baci visited a patient whose family was really worried about her because she refused to talk about her current situation. Baci sat in her lap and she started to talk to him about her fears. The room fell silent. When we were done the woman's husband thanked us, calling Baci an angel from heaven. I thanked him for letting us visit.

Even though Baci has taken on more patients, he still continues to be my number one therapist. Just petting him helps to relax me. While I know that animals aren't for everyone, they really do seem to have a healing power which I have been lucky enough to see firsthand.

Baci and I will continue our therapy work. We hope to continue bringing joy, comfort and companionship to those who need it most.