News and Tribune

March 28, 2014

A 'GOLDEN' OPPORTUNITY: SIRH welcomes new puppy into therapy program; w/video


NEW ALBANY — It’s a typical day at Southern Indiana Rehab Hospital, where patients and staff are working on a variety of physical therapy treatments.

One man struggles to walk around the room while being guided by a staff member. Another exercises his limbs on a treadmill. Off to the side, a woman reclines on a mat to help stretch out her muscles. All is quiet in the therapy room, with everyone focused on their own personal treatment.

But then Jozie and Lily arrive, and the room lights up.

SIRH welcomed a new puppy — Jozie — into its therapy program Friday, where patients and staff “oohed” and “awwed” upon meeting her for the first time. Jozie, a 10-week-old female goldendoodle, will train alongside the facility’s existing therapy dog, Lily, a 7-year-old goldendoodle.

“I believe it just brightens people’s day,” Melissa Hammock, a patient at SIRH, said. “I can’t express that more than anything.”

Located in New Albany, SIRH operates as an inpatient and outpatient treatment facility, where patients work on a range of physical and mental disabilities

Deb Strickler, a recreational therapist at SIRH and the dogs’ handler, will help work with Jozie for the next two years, teaching her basic obedience training, as well as specific skills for interacting with patients.

“The biggest part is the socialization of the dog for the first year and to expose them to as many and all different things that you can within the facility and out in the community.”

Bred in Deer Park, Wash., Jozie was chosen from an eight-puppy litter after successfully completing various temperament testing.

“We were supposed to have a male, but as you can see we have a female because the female tested so much higher in what we were going to utilize the dog for that they felt this was the best dog that would fit into our program,” Strickler said.

Goldendoodles are often chosen to become therapy dogs due to their minimal shedding, as well as their temperament.

“They’re just so people-oriented and people-friendly,” she said, just as Lily jumped into her lap.

Strickler said the therapy program at SIRH utilizes animals in order to better treat patients in a number of ways, from strengthening mobility to helping children overcome speech difficulties.

“If they’re depressed or feeling down, we can bring the dog in just for a visitation or just to lift their spirits,” she said. “A lot of people have animals and it’s more a sense of homeiness by having an animal in the facility.”

Lily’s favorite interactions are with the children.

“We had a kiddo who was diagnosed with autism and a lot of time they don’t like to be touched,” Strickler said. “He ended up feeding Lily a treat, walking Lily, and he socialized more with people because their attention was more on Lily and not on him.”

Lily also will be able to teach those socialization skills to Jozie.

Strickler, affectionately referring to herself as “Mom,” said it’s important to create a bond between a therapy dog and the handler in order to perform the duties needed.

“I know Lily’s limitations. I know what she can do and what she’s willing to do for me,” she said. “I’m always there to make sure she is protected and she isn’t going to get hurt in anything she does to help a patient.”

Dave Canter, an occupational therapist at SIRH, said he hopes to see the use of pet therapy grow because of its benefits to patients.

“You have people that are in a very fearful and negative situation where something bad has happened to them, and then you give them contact with something that will always love them and they can return the love to them,” he said.

Canter said by having a dog around, it calms the patients and can also decrease pain levels.

“Did the dog do anything orthopedic? No. Did the dog provide medication? No. But in a way it does,” he said. “The dogs just do something that nobody else can do.”

Hammock, who is undergoing therapy treatment from knee surgery, was first to agree with how much difference therapy dogs can make.

“Just to see an animal really just helps you, you know? It makes you want to get up and move around and chase your own dogs when you get home,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful.”