Therapy dogs help local patients battle back to health
June 5, 2013
By David Hayes
When Bill King broke his femur in a horseback riding accident, the 48-year-old knew after surgery he was in for a long, excruciating rehabilitation period.
But the highly trained specialist his team of physical therapists at Snoqualmie Valley Hospital brings in makes the process a little more tolerable, even if the exorbitant fees in return are nothing more than a good scratch behind the ears.
The specialist trained to help patients with their rehab is Quilla, a 2 ½-year-old Siberian Husky/Australian shepherd mix, one of six dogs provided by Pet Partners through the hospital’s Animal Assisted Therapy program.
Working with Quilla helps the half-hour go faster for King when he has to get up out of his wheelchair and work on putting weight on his healing leg again. For King, who has dogs of his own, the Animal Assisted Therapy program feels like a little piece of home.
“Call it a distraction,” said King, of Auburn. “He gives me something to focus on other than the end of the hallway.”
In fact, Brienne Costa, who’s overseen the therapy program for five years now, notices a change that comes over patients like King when Quilla or the other dogs are present.
“I’ve noticed they’d rather walk with the dog than with us,” she said. “Some patients come back to visit after their therapy. Sometimes they don’t remember us, but certainly remember the dog.”
Not just any dog is allowed in the program. Quilla’s handler, Cindy Kerby, owns four of the dogs in the program. She said they’re required to take six obedience classes in addition to therapy classes.
The Pet Partners lend their talents to nursing homes, senior centers, schools and hospice centers.
In a crowded building at Snoqualmie Valley Hospital, with 25 beds and between five and 12 patients in physical therapy at any given time, Costa said it gets pretty crazy at the facility. To keep distractions to a minimum, she said only one therapy dog is present at a time, is always with its handler and is always in the presence of one of the facility’s recreational therapists. Each patient is allotted a 15-minute timeslot with the four-legged specialist.
It’s easy to see the transformation that the therapy dogs elicit.
Joy Kuhn, 84, rehabbing a broken foot, positively beams when talking about Quilla.
“He comes up to you like he belongs to you,” the Crossroads resident said. “He brings so much joy in life.”
It’s obvious to see the pain Kuhn endures when in rehab. When working with Quilla, she works on her balance while throwing a ball to Quilla in a thinly disguised game of fetch.
“Standing on my foot is kinda hard,” Kuhn explained. “But, I figure if Quilla has the energy to keep going, then maybe so do I.”
After 29 years as a therapist, Nola Kundie said she has been quite impressed with this new program’s results.
“I love it. It gets patients moving, and the dogs are a joy to participate with,” she said. “They usually can do their therapy for a certain amount of time. But with the dogs, they’re distracted and their outlook gets so much brighter.”
David Hayes: 392-6434, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.snovalleystar.com.