Lifestyle

PAWS pairs patients with pleasant pooches

The PAWS new Buddy Brigade visited residents at Island Health and Rehabilitation Center last week. Yellow lab A.J. greets residents Carolyn Krotochwill, right, and Elizabeth Winters.  - Brad Camp/ For the Review
The PAWS new Buddy Brigade visited residents at Island Health and Rehabilitation Center last week. Yellow lab A.J. greets residents Carolyn Krotochwill, right, and Elizabeth Winters.
— image credit: Brad Camp/ For the Review

Travis Baker misses his dog. A short-term patient at Island Health and Rehabilitation Center, Baker lives in Marysville, 60 miles and a long ferry ride from his canine friend. He is clearly a small-dog person, and of the three dogs visiting Island Health on Sept. 22 Gypsy, a petite pomeranian, is clearly his favorite.

Another patient, Richard Marschall, doesn’t have a preference.

“I like them all,” he said with a grin.

There was a lot of grinning and tail-wagging happening as AJ, Beaumont and Gypsy greeted and nuzzled their way around the room of about 11 residents as part of PAWS new Buddy Brigade program.

Mark Hufford, executive director of PAWS, said canine visits are well-documented for their effectiveness in lowering blood pressure, improving emotional and mental health and encouraging range of motion as patients reach out and pet the dogs.

“It’s medication without side effects,” Hufford said.

The dogs (and their humans) all passed muster with Judith Bell, regional evaluator for Therapy Dog International. Dogs must pass a rigorous 15-part test aimed at gauging temperament, obedience and patience. As part of the Buddy Brigade, dogs may be called upon to interact in unfamiliar settings with a variety of strangers, many of whom have wheelchairs, walkers or canes. Some patients may act fearfully or erratically so the dogs must have a calm, easy-going attitude.

Breeds that are known for easy-going temperaments – labs, retrievers – must pass an even tougher test: the dog biscuit test. Handlers bring the dogs within two feet of a pile of dog biscuits to test the dog’s reaction.

Buddy Brigade dogs can be enlisted “literally anywhere compassion is needed,” Hufford said. Which is just about anywhere.

The Bainbridge Library has utilized similiar ambassador dogs in its successful “Read to a Dog” program where dogs listen as children read stories. Providing nervous young readers with a loyal (and nonjudgmental) audience allows kids to relax while their reading skills improve.

From the amount of tail-wagging going on during the IHRC visit, one could assume the dogs get as much as they give.

Holly Hall, administrator at IHRC, said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Many residents had dogs before coming to IHRC and they were a big part of their lives,” she said. “This creates an opportunity to have a conversation.”

When asked which dog was his favorite, Marschall, who had a Samoyan named Poncho, kept the conversation short.

“I love every one,” he said.

The dog owners, too, get a kick out of the program. Diane Hallwirth, who has six dogs, held the diminutive Gypsy in her arms. Paulette Peterson escorted the exuberant golden lab A.J. around the room, his tail wagging almost nonstop. Karrie Wiley enjoyed seeing her Australian Shepherd Beaumont bring joy to the group assembled.

“The response between the person and the dog is fun to see,” she said. “At first they might be quiet, but then you see them light up. You can see it in their eyes.”

Good medicine, indeed.

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Paws programs

When you think of PAWS you might picture kitties waiting to be adopted, but PAWS programs, particularly in this dog-tired economy, go much further than that.

The PAWS emergency veterinary assistance program has more than doubled in the last two years, Mark Hufford, PAWS executive director said.

The nonprofit group also has supplied nine tons of pet food to local food banks for cash-strapped pet owners.

“The Pet Retention Program is a somewhat proactive response [to the economy] to try to reduce the number of people relinquishing their pets,” Hufford said.

In August, PAWS initiated a series of Pet Remembrance gatherings facilitated by family counselor Jeremy Mays for people working through the grief of losing a pet.

The Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) of Bainbridge Island/North Kitsap is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has provided animal welfare services to the people and pets of Bainbridge and North Kitsap since 1975.

In addition to the new programs, PAWS also provides a lost and found database; cat adoption; free and low-cost spay/neuter; emergency veterinary assistance; feral cat control; and information and referral.

For more information, visit www.pawsbainbridge.org.

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Spotlight on Paws

The annual benefit dinner and auction for PAWS of Bainbridge and North Kitsap is at 5 p.m. Oct. 9 at Kiana Lodge, 14976 Sandy Hook Rd. NE, Poulsbo.

The gala event includes dinner, live music, and silent and live auctions. Tickets are $125 per person.

For more information, visit www.pawsbainbridge.org.

By Connie Mears

Staff Writer

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