Polly and Olive, who are certified therapy dogs, visit hospice patients regularly with their owner Catherine Gaines.
“That dog walks in that room and those people’s faces light up,” Gaines said. “… I think part of it is this is one creature that is coming in your room that is not sad. Your family knows they are losing you, so as much as they try to put on a brave face, they are sad. The dog just thinks, ‘Hi I’m Polly, I love you!’”
Gaines, a physician’s assistant at Duke Cardiovascular Surgery of Lumberton, says the dogs do more than cheer patients up. She said patients in the presence of the animal undergo physical changes, their blood pressure drops and the need for pain medicine is mitigated.
“The best thing is that it offers medicine that we can’t otherwise give,” she said. “It is a whole different brand of emotional support that we can’t give them. That to me is a bonafidetherapy that we are giving that doesn’t have medicine.”
She has taken Polly, a black-and-white Border Collie mix, and Olive, a Mastiff mix, to see about 20 patients.
“There was a young woman over there and she was in and out because her brain was swelling,” she said. “When she woke up long enough, she got those most beautiful smile on her face. It was stunning. I was standing in the room trying not to cry. That dog made that child’s day. It was awesome.”
The dogs also bring joy to people beginning their life’s journey.
Olive, who is more energetic than Polly, will be going to elementary schools to let children read to her, which has been proven to improve scores for children who have a hard time reading.
“The dog doesn’t correct them, doesn’t mock them,” Gaines said. “He is just happy to be there.”