Our Lady of Lourdes’ four-legged therapists

Our Lady of Lourdes’ four-legged therapists

Photo by James A. McBride
Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, Camden, held a “pup rally” for the therapy dogs from Tri-State K9 Response Team who regularly visit Lourdes’ patients and their visitors, and the medical center staff. Above, some of the therapy dogs and their handlers pose for a photo.

CAMDEN — Obviously the class clown, Damien, a longhaired dachshund, broke out of line during the group photo and hurried on his stubby dachshund legs to snatch a toy from Skeeter, a 70-pound golden retriever.
Skeeter was unperturbed, as were all the other dogs who attended the “pup rally” at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, Camden, on Aug. 22. Trained to be calm, Damien and Skeeter and all the others are therapy dogs, brought to the medical center each week to provide emotional support to patients, their families and staff.
The breeds ranged from the sturdy and muscular, like the 90-pound bullmastiff named Abigail — she wore a tutu because she is commonly mistaken for a male – to small dogs that looked like plush toys, such as Koji, a chihuahua-maltese mix.
The dogs all share two characteristics. One is they are exceedingly gentle and highly trained (even Damien.) Imagine being in a room with more than a dozen dogs and not hearing a single bark, whine or growl. No tangled leashes, no unwanted sniffing or licking.
Secondly, calm as they are, all the dogs are gluttons for affection. They enjoy being petted by anyone and everyone, and for as long as possible.
For many of the handlers, who belong to the non-profit organization Tri-State K9 Response, Lourdes is only one of the places their dogs bring comfort to people.
“We respond all over the country, as well as locally,” said Peggi Breuninger, who brought Alma, her Great Dane, to Parkland, Florida, a week after the high school shooting that left 17 people dead in February.
“Kids at that age, teenagers, don’t want to let their emotions show. Having the dogs there provides comfort,” she said. “Then they start talking.”
Ruth Osman brought her a golden retriever, Kelsey, to Parkland and also to Paramus, N.J., the site of a school bus crash in May. She said dogs offer “unconditional love” and recalled a student saying, “We like having the dogs here because they don’t ask all the questions the therapists ask.”
As a Lourdes patient reached out to pet Raven, a goldendoodle (a golden retriever and poodle mix), the dog moved closer. The dogs are trained to lean toward patients in wheelchairs so they don’t have to reach far.
“This is what God put him here for,” the patient said, petting Raven, who calmly soaked up the attention.

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