Therapy dogs bring many smiles

DOGS in Nepean Hospital can sometimes be as important as nursing staff, say their handlers and some patients.

Nepean Therapy Dogs' volunteers regularly visit the hospital with their pets, giving patients an opportunity to cuddle and speak to the animals.

"I couldn't live without them," Nepean Hospital patient Betty Bailey said. "The dogs are friendly, they're beautiful, they're so understanding, they're a great comfort.

"It's a pleasure to have them in the hospital; it makes the day go by."

For many years Annemarie Schuster has been visiting patients at the hospital with her dogs, some of whom are no longer with her, but still remembered by all they touched. Mrs Schuster said about 15 years ago her dog, Bella, revived a boy who had been in a coma. She cannot forget the day her labrador retriever, Bonnie, was sitting by a man in the cardiac ward.

"Bonnie suddenly went stiff," Mrs Schuster said. "I thought, something's not right, so I ran to the nurses' desk and said we need help." The nurses rushed the man, who had suffered a seizure, to intensive care and managed to revive him just in time.

"A nurse said to Bonnie: 'You're one of us; you just saved a gentleman's life'," Mrs Schuster said.

"Bonnie put her head on the man's bed and he just patted her, saying: 'Thank you, thank you'."

Fellow dog-handler Nicole Celeban said the smiles of patients were the best thing about her visits.

"They can be as glum as can be, but when the dogs walk in their eyes light up and they smile," Mrs Celeban said.

She said visits sometimes ended in sadness.

She recalled taking her dog to a woman in a coma, who had her family waiting around her.

"The woman's hand moved towards her; she was aware of my dog," Mrs Celeban said.

"She soon died, but it was a more comforting end."

Nepean Therapy Dogs: 4727 7292 or 4573 1894.

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