Dogs offer patient care that cannot be matched - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

Dogs offer patient care that cannot be matched

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Sue Grundfest trains dogs for animal-assisted therapy Sue Grundfest trains dogs for animal-assisted therapy

Animals are providing care at Sunrise Hospital that workers find fascinating, and patients find soothing.

Animal-assisted therapy has been around for a long time, but when you meet the pets who make weekly visits to the hospital, you will find that they also have a story to tell.

From the moment the dogs and handlers walk off the elevator, their presence is felt; a feeling the patients can't deny, and one that hospital workers relish.

"Often times, you'll see a patient who is really down in the dumps, and the dog will show up in the room and their eyes light up," said Tracy Netherton, volunteer coordinator at Sunrise Hospital.

Netherton has been responsible for overseeing the animal-assisted therapy for four years.

There are 12 dogs enrolled in the program, including Kirby, Annie, and KC, who were present during our visit. They are specially trained to interact with men, women and children ailing from a variety of conditions.

For Bonnie Pennington, who said she was hospitalized after injuring her right leg in a fall, the first moment upon meeting the animals was special.

"Oh God, it's the best part of the week, best part of my two weeks here," Pennington said.

While hospitalized, Bonnie uses a wheelchair to get around, but so does her new friend. Kirby, a toy poodle, needs his own set of wheels.

"He's had hip surgeries, eye surgeries, bladder surgery, and he's perfect! He's just the perfect working dog in the world," said Sue Grundfest, an instructor and evaluator with the Delta Society.

The program teaches regular pets to be therapeutic helpers.

Kirby was found near death, roaming Fremont Street three years ago, until a Good Samaritan found him, and gave his life new meaning.

"He loves everyone. He loves going to work," Grundfest said, who is also Kirby's owner.

"We may be the only visitors (the patients) ever see. They may have no family or family living close enough to visit regularly," she added.

And when it comes to talent, Kirby is extra special and extra sensitive.

"He can foreshadow when someone is going to pass. We've seen this in the dementia care in the hospitals we go to," said Grundfest.

The animals are one of a kind. KC is a shepherd mix, and a competitive agility dog. Annie, on the other hand, is a chow-collie mix, and is a rescue from North Carolina. Each dog has its own story, just like the patients.

"I think what is overwhelming is when you see the tears, and for a change are convinced that those tears are not for pain, but they're for happiness," Netherton said.

The dogs will pay a visit to the hospital, usually once or twice a week. And, the therapy is not limited to canines. The Delta Society also uses cats, and even horses.

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