Nine new canines for Obici program

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 18, 2005

For the past two years, Obici Hospital has been going to the dogs.

Actually, in this case, perhaps that old saying needs to be reversed. Every day, several four-legged furry friends visit the hospital to cheer up the patients, employees and visitors as part of the hospital’s Kanine Kandystripers program. On Wednesday afternoon, nine new animals graduated into the program, bringing the grand total to 30.

&uot;It’s amazing the number of positive comments that we get from patients and employees about the dogs,&uot; said Obici vice president Chet Hart. &uot;Sometimes work can get a little boring, and seeing the dogs is a nice pick-me-up. A little non-human contact can make the patients feel good.&uot;

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In October, Lydia Dunkailo, who helped start the program, received the hospital’s annual President Award for the Kanine creation.

&uot;Where I worked before,&uot; said Dunkailo, a recreational therapist, &uot;we had one therapy dog that lived in the therapy hall. She would visit the patients and take long trips with us.&uot;

She decided to bring Obici the same enjoyment, making it the only hospital in Hampton Roads to carry a hospital-sponsored therapy dog program.

Each dog must pass a Therapy Dogs International test, and is checked for grooming, disposition, and how they interact with handlers, patients, and other dogs.

Then trainer Buddy Hayes brings them to Obici for a specific look.

&uot;They go up the elevator to the second floor, and go to an empty room,&uot; Hayes said. &uot;There’s a volunteer in the bed posing as a patient. We check to make sure that they (the handlers) knock before they come in, and ask the patient if he’d like to see the dog. Sometimes, we tell the patient to act afraid or excited and see how the dogs and handlers respond.&uot;

Beki Corsar walked her one-year-old pug, Buttercup, through the program.

&uot;She’s really, really good around people,&uot; Corsar said after the ceremony, watching her dog nip away at some celebratory cake. &uot;My mom works at an elementary school in Virginia Beach and I take her there sometimes. We try to get patients’ minds off the fact that they’re in the hospital. They can cuddle her, pet her, whatever they want.&uot;

Patrick Heard wanted his dog to get a bit of extroversion as well.

&uot;He didn’t have any access to other dogs,&uot; Heard said of Frizz, his bichon frise. &uot;I work here as a switchboard operator, and I’d heard many good things about the program and seen the dogs as they came in. He likes it, because he likes to be around people.&uot;

The pets aren’t just for the patients, Dunkailo said.

&uot;Sometimes, the family members want to see them as well,&uot; she said.

&uot;A lot of times, dogs stimulate the memories they have of their own pets. It calms them down quite a bit.&uot;