Sit. Stay. Heal.

By Nancy Gay, APR - December 21, 2018

On a rainy Saturday morning, Lori Robertson walks through the doors of Moffitt Cancer Center as she’s done dozens of times before, yet this visit is anything but ordinary as she pushes a stroller with her beloved King Charles spaniel peeking from behind the mesh netting. Robertson has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, but today’s visit is for her dog Bailey, to see if she can receive her pet therapy certification.

Moffitt is the first hospital in Hillsborough County to be a Project PUP pet therapy certification site. Therapy dogs provide the ultimate distraction from hospital life. Studies show animal-assisted therapy can decrease anxiety and pain, lower blood pressure and increase a patients’ emotional well-being.Lori Roberston pictured with her dog Bailey.

Moffitt is the first hospital in Hillsborough County to be a Project PUP pet therapy certification site. Therapy dogs provide the ultimate distraction from hospital life. Studies show animal-assisted therapy can decrease anxiety and pain, lower blood pressure and increase a patients’ emotional well-being.

Robertson knows the impact a therapy dog can make on a patient’s life all too well. Doctors diagnosed her with stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer on Aug. 4, 2010. By the time it was discovered, the cancer had already spread to her bones. At the time she was living in Chicago and would travel to Pennsylvania for treatment. Eventually moved to Florida where she began seeing doctors at Moffitt, including Dr. Lodovico Balducci who worked in conjunction with her physician in Pennsylvania.

In December 2013, Robertson fell while ice skating in downtown Tampa. As a precaution she went to the hospital where they ran scans because she was a cancer patient. The scan showed something on her brain, and she asked for the image to be sent to her original doctor in Pennsylvania and never heard anything about it. She took no news as good news, but it turns out her doctor never received the scan.

Fast forward to the following summer, Robertson was experiencing bad heartburn and pain and Dr. Nam Tran at Moffitt recommended a brain scan scheduled for Aug. 4, 2014. At first she hesitated to have it done on that day given the news she received four years earlier. However, she is not superstitious, so she went through with the scan. It turns out the cancer spread to her brain and she had a 2 cm tumor that needed to be removed immediately.

The surgery went well, but she still returns to Moffitt at least once a month for scans, MRIs, follow-up appointments and Herceptin infusions. She often sees the pet therapy dogs at the hospital and they always make her smile.

Lori Roberston pictured with her dog Bailey.

She was excited to learn that she could get Bailey certified to be a pet therapy dog and bring joy to other patients. Bailey was actually her father’s dog and he wanted her to be a therapy dog because she is calm and loves people. When her father died a few months ago, Robertson was determined to fulfill her father’s wishes and get Baily certified.

After attending an hourlong education session, filling out an application and paying the $35 fee, the first step during the onsite screening was to make sure Bailey is comfortable being petted and touched by humans. Next Bailey went into a room with a wheelchair, walker and medical equipment to make sure she can navigate and remain calm even when items may fall on the floor or make loud noises. Baily also had to walk by aromatic food on the floor and not try to eat it. This test is to ensure she wouldn’t try to eat medication, food or other items that may fall on the floor in a patient’s room or hospital. The third and final step was to go onto the inpatient floors and see how Bailey interacts with patients, team members and visitors. Bailey wasn’t the only one being tested. Robertson was also being screened and had to show she can handle her dog in a variety of situations. In order to become a pet therapy volunteer at Moffitt, Robertson must meet the same requirements as other Moffitt volunteers.

Bailey and Robertson passed the test, and at the end of the morning, Bailey, along with about 10 other dogs, received their official pet therapy bandanas.

Project PUP offers pet therapy certification training every other month at Moffitt. While the certified pups are encouraged to volunteer at Moffitt, they can use their certification to volunteer throughout the community. Learn more and see the onsite screening schedule here

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Nancy Gay, APR PR Account Coordinator 813-745-7581 More Articles

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