My fellow therapists at the SNF where I work all provide a vast amount of talent to our therapy team. Whether specializing in hand therapy, lymphedema management or simply approaching therapy with years of experience, there is a clinician on staff who can provide superb care to any sort of patient.
There is one member of our team, however, who most of the patients seek out and brings a guaranteed smile to their faces. This "therapist" has the ability to charm even the grouchiest and can entice many timid patients out of their rooms for gait training. Unlike the rest of the PT staff, this therapist is not formally trained yet goes by simple animal instincts (the four-legged kind). The therapist I speak of is named "Xena" (yes, as in the "Warrior Princess") and is a dainty 105-pound female bull mastiff.
Xena has not been trained as a "therapy dog" per se, but if one could earn her diploma on experience alone, I think she would qualify. She arrives most weekdays with her owners/parents, both physical therapists on staff, who recognized early on Xena's gift for communicating with people. Like all dogs, Xena is "treat-driven," therefore she lumbers through the facility, quiet and unassuming, visiting patients in their rooms for a chance bacon treat from the breakfast tray or perhaps a simple pat on her head.
Xena's true gift is her ability to make people comfortable in the gym. Many times she'll join a patient on the mat table (with permission) and quietly snooze while respecting his space. I've found myself enticing patients down to the gym with the promise of Xena's attendance with much success. For such a large dog, I'm always surprised by patients' natural acceptance and lack of fear when they're near her. This speaks to Xena's sweet gentleness, which transcends her large frame. The "no-one-feeds-me-so-do-you-have-a-treat" look certainly helps her allure.
When Xena hasn't "come to work" for a few days, patients will worriedly ask where she is and often they'll self propel in wheelchairs to the gym, wondering if Xena is OK. "She hasn't visited recently -- can I leave her a dog biscuit?" they'll ask. Xena the therapy dog is an important component to our PT staff and her unconditional love of people allows our patients to relax and become more comfortable in the gym setting. If an effective therapist connects with and motivates her patients, then Xena has earned her doctorate.