Lola shares a moment with Doug Smith during a visit to Peace Arch Hospital’s Dr. Al Hogg Pavilion.

Lola shares a moment with Doug Smith during a visit to Peace Arch Hospital’s Dr. Al Hogg Pavilion.

Therapy dogs give patients paws for good health

Program helping patients at Peace Arch Hospital's Dr. Al Hogg Pavilion.

Eva Hompoth remembers she was ready to give up on the treatments she was undergoing for her Stage 3 breast cancer.

She’d simply had enough.

Then along came Lola.

Bright-eyed and “like a bear” with her soft, grey fur, the Husky-cross melted Hompoth’s heart from the first moment she held the puppy.

Today, the White Rock resident is celebrating three years’ cancer-free, and she credits Lola with helping her get there.

“It basically gave me the strength to go ahead,” Hompoth said of Lola’s impact on her life. “I decided if she can do that for me, maybe she can do that for someone else.”

And for the past two months, that’s exactly what has been happening.

After undergoing an assessment through St. John Ambulance’s Therapy Dog Services program, Hompoth and 3½-year-old Lola have been paying weekly visits to second-floor residents of Peace Arch Hospital’s Dr. Al Hogg Pavilion.

Many who spot the pair heading their way light up at the sight. Those who can, reach out to pet Lola, asking Hompoth about her and cooing lovingly towards the four-legged friend.

“Oh, what a beautiful dog,” comments one woman, petting the mild-mannered pooch.

“Hi babe,” she says to Lola. “You’re so pretty.”

The reactions are similar in every hallway and room the pair visit: eyes light up, smiles appear and hands reach out to caress Lola’s silky coat.

Sharing the physical and emotional benefits of regular contact with a dog is the goal of the Therapy Dog Services program. Research – and simple observation of a team in action – shows that for many patients, petting, stroking and cuddling a dog improves their quality of life. For some, it results in a better night’s sleep. For others, it improves their appetite and motivates them to participate more.

“They can lower blood pressure, they can calm agitated people,” added Mindy Swindells, administrative assistance for the SJA program. “Therapy dogs are great for residents, for patients, for anybody needing physical touch.”

In the short time that Hompoth and Lola have been on the (volunteer) job, Hompoth has seen enough to cement her confidence that their visits are making a difference. One seemingly non-responsive woman who was introduced to Lola started giggling when Lola put her head on the resident’s lap. Another started singing as she was petting the dog.

“It was such a good feeling, and I said, ‘yeah, this is why I’m doing this,’” Hompoth said.

For Doug Smith, who has lived at the pavilion for the past five years, Lola is a welcome reminder of Streak, a pet his family once owned. Streak, a pointer, died of cancer at age 13, but she was about the same size as Lola, Smith said.

Smith, who is living with multiple sclerosis, said he looks forward to Lola’s visits.

Hompoth lifts the 88-pound dog so that she can reach Smith, and Lola will offer a wet kiss or simply hang out while Smith and Hompoth chat. The visits trigger many a smile from their new friend.

Julie Dahl, who is the hospital’s co-ordinator of volunteer resources, said there are currently about a dozen dog-and-handler teams that visit patients in the Al Hogg and Weatherby pavilions on the Peace Arch Hospital grounds.

And there is always demand for more.

“We could have therapy dog teams over five floors every day of the week” at the Hogg pavilion alone, she said.

To get involved, contact Swindells at 604-301-2724 or by email at mindy.swindells@bc.sja.ca. Volunteers may specify which facility they would like to get involved with.

For more information, visit www.petsandfriends.org, email info@petsandfriends.org or call 604-688-1766.

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