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Transition to Rehab Management

Another Therapy Intervention

Published September 21, 2012 4:05 PM by Karen Schiff

Another whole facet of rehabilitation is being introduced to me this week, with the entire week being spent in training to handle my facility's therapy dog, Pumpkin. I've got three days of intensive training under my belt, which includes lecture, interactive discussion, hands-on, and practical testing. As a DPT student, I have to admit that my first written exam on handling Pumpkin was harder than any other exam I've ever taken.

Memorization of commands, what to do in an emergency, how to handle a difficult situation with people who may not be fond of dogs, performing a physical assessment and studying the psychological aspects of a dog are just some of the other tasks we are studying as well. This training will last an entire week, as 16 of us in our healthcare system are joining the team of handlers who spread the benefits of the seven dogs the system owns. I'm proud to say that we have the largest number of therapy dogs in any system, and thanks to our administration and volunteer employees, we provide a service that goes above and beyond.

These seven beautiful golden retrievers are already trained by ECAD (Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities). ECAD was founded by Lu and Dale Picard in 1995. Since then, training facilities have been established in Connecticut and New York. Every dog in the program is trained by students attending alternative high schools in New York. These teens have often received little nurturing themselves, but through the ECADemy training program, they learn to provide love, care and training for the dogs. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of patience, responsibility and dedication to turn an 8-week-old puppy into a mature and capable service dog.

What I've learned in the past few days has been overwhelming at times, especially today when I experienced for the first time visiting a patient in the hospital with Pumpkin. This will be a moment forever cherished, as the young man we visited was actually a visitor at the hospital. To see tears in his eyes as he spoke about his ill father, as well as his past dogs, placed quite a hold on my heart. Not only can these dogs service people physically, but emotionally as well, and I watched it happen in front of my eyes. As for Pumpkin, he followed all commands without a second thought. Amazing to watch a motivated therapy dog perform his work.

Next week, Pumpkin and I will share some time together in the outpatient rehabilitation department, providing any physical or emotional support to our patients and staff. I'm honored to be able to lead him in his purposeful duties. He will certainly provide much-needed relaxation to the eight therapists who are studying for our DPTs as well!

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