• 72°

Obici Hospital has gone to the dogs, and I#8217;m glad they have

Anybody who knows me is aware that I am a big animal lover.

My wife and I have four cats and four dogs, all rescued either from shelters or from the mean streets.

As an animal lover, I rarely pass up an opportunity to cover an event that involves the four-legged critters, especially dogs. (No offense to our cat-loving readers; remember, I have four of them myself).

Recently I heard about a program at Obici Hospital that involved using dogs for therapeutic purposes.

I was familiar with this concept in nursing homes n my wife and her dog Smokey were trained to do this in South Florida n but I had never heard of it in a hospital environment.

I eventually contacted the lady who oversees the program, Lydia Dunkailo, and set up a time that I could visit with her and learn more.

Dunkailo started the local program, called Kanine Kandy Stripers, after seeing a similar one at a hospital in the Williamsburg area.

As a recreational therapist, she believed the canine program would meld well with Obici’s policy of treating the “whole” person and not just the disease.

She pitched her idea and won approval.

She then recruited dogs and handlers, and had nearly 100 people show up for that first meeting.

After a very intense training program the number of dogs and handlers dwindled to its current 27.

Today, those men, women, and children (there is one 16-year-old), and their four-legged companions, visit the hospital just about seven days a week, visiting patients, employees and others throughout the building.

These folks are all volunteers, and they give of themselves to receive the training and to perform their duties.

The dogs seem to really enjoy what they do, and even look forward to it according to the handlers.

I know from experience that having my little guys around helps me when I have had a bad day. Their unconditional love and affection is extremely therapeutic.

I recall being in the hospital about a year ago (in Florida) and how lonely it was when my wife wasn’t there with me. I wish I had had the chance to visit with one of these dogs. It would have made my overnight stay much more enjoyable.

I can only imagine how the patients at Obici feel after a visit from the dogs. It must lift their spirits and help in the healing process. I truly believe that.

Just being around these dogs doing the articles I will eventually write boosted my spirits.

I have a great deal of respect for Dunkailo and all of the volunteers in the Kanine Kandy Striper program.

Maybe the next time you are at the hospital, either as a patient or just visiting, you’ll have the opportunity to meet some of these folks and their charges. If you do, I strongly recommend taking a few minutes to chat with them about the program. You will learn they are as excited about being a part of it as the patients are in being visited by the dogs.

It is truly a win-win situation for everybody.

It’s a wonderful program that I hope gains some national attention and eventually become a part of the therapy program at every hospital.

And if you don’t get the opportunity to visit with the dogs, you can learn more about them this Sunday in the News-Herald.

Grant is the managing editor of the Suffolk News-Herald. Contact him at doug.grant@suffolknewsherald.com