GREENFIELD — The terminally ill patient had not spoken in weeks.
The woman, an end-stage cancer patient, had refused to talk to any doctors or nurses since she had been checked into the hospice unit at Hancock Regional Hospital, staff said.
But when a fluffy blonde golden retriever with dark droopy eyes trotted into the patient’s room and put a paw up on the bed, the woman’s eyes lit up. As she reached down to pet him, she cracked a smile; the first smile her caregivers had seen.
Oliver, a therapy dog that was bred, licensed and trained through the Indiana Canine Assistance Network, recently began visiting patients at Hancock Regional, providing relief to both patients and staff in need. Oliver has been specially designated to work with people who have emotional needs, said Greenfield Healthcare Center Executive Director Rob Newcomer.
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Hancock Regional staff members looks forward to Oliver’s visits, now happening twice a month. Even medical professionals understand a dog can provide comfort a human being never could, said Chief Nursing Officer Craig Felty. Situations like these are when Oliver arrives to give a pick-me-up to patients who are suffering from immense physical or psychological pain.
“We know the value that Oliver brings to the overall healing that goes on in this place,” Felty said. “It really helps people who sometimes are in the worst times of their life.”
He’s especially comforting to those spending their final days in the hospice unit, he added.
Newcomer, Oliver’s handler, donates his time to Hancock Regional to bring Oliver around the building, offering a mental breather to patients who are temporarily living in a hospital room.
“You can just see the families with this look on their face,” Newcomer said. “It’s like their whole demeanor changes whenever they see a dog.”
The healthcare center’s favorite furry friend visits everyone, from dementia and mental health patients to new mothers recovering after birth.
Elizabeth Inskeep gave birth to her daughter, Amelia, last week. While resting with her family two days later, the Inskeeps received a surprise visit from Oliver, who happily sauntered into the room and lazily rested his head on Inskeep’s lap, begging to be petted.
“It was a nice little break from daunting reality,” Elizabeth Inskeep said with a chuckle.
Even a quick five-minute visit from Oliver gave the family a moment of comfort during an incredibly stressful week.
“It felt a little like home here for a bit,” added her husband, Tim Inskeep.
Oliver doesn’t only benefit patients. It didn’t take long for hospital staff to fall in love with the pooch, too, Felty said.
Newcomer makes sure that everyone in the building has a chance to enjoy a little pet therapy. During his visits, Oliver is walked around to areas of the hospital that aren’t usually patient-heavy, like accounting, materials management and pharmacy.
“Just as much as it raises the spirits of our patients, it raises the spirits of our colleagues and associates,” Felty said.
Therapy dogs like Oliver take two years to train and cost $28,000, Newcomer said. While Oliver’s therapy training serves many purposes, Newcomer continues to learn how versatile his services can be.
Hancock Regional staff members have found when certain dementia patients become agitated or suffer from anxiety, a visit from Oliver sometimes works better than prescribing medication, Newcomer said. Having a dog around triggers their memory and allows them to reminisce about a family pet they once had, helping them redirect negative emotions.
When human attempts to communicate fail, sometimes a canine companion is all it takes to ease suffering for a little while, Newcomer said.
“Maybe they won’t see relief but peace for a little while.”