The Closest Thing to Man’s Best Friend

By Sarah Garcia - November 16, 2020

The furry companions who once frequented the halls, lobbies and inpatient rooms at Moffitt Cancer Center have been on a hiatus since the start of the pandemic. This new normal has been pretty “ruff” for the pet therapy dogs and our patients, families and team members alike.

The Volunteer Services team had special signs and props created to help celebrate upcoming holidays.
The Volunteer Services team had special signs and props created to help celebrate upcoming holidays.

Tina Costello, a volunteer with Moffitt’s Pet Therapy program, says it’s obvious her dog Bunker misses visiting with the patients.

“When I leave for a volunteer shift, he looks at me like, ‘So you got your vest on, aren’t I supposed to be going with you?’” Costello said. “I’d always put my vest on, and then I’d put his on. He used to just tear into here [Moffitt] as soon as we’d get out of the car. He’s literally pulling me, tugging me down the hallway.”

Costello said the pet therapy program brings patients a sense of peace and comfort.

Pet therapy harnesses hang in the Volunteer Services office at Moffitt.
Pet therapy harnesses hang in Volunteer Services.

“It puts a smile on their face, joy in their hearts and provides a distraction from their serious medical condition,” she said. “We have a responsibility as volunteers. People come here every week or sometimes for weeks on end. They look forward to this little slice of joy we bring.”

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the volunteers and their dogs haven’t been able to come to campus since the spring.

Karen Burdash, one of Moffitt’s pet therapy program volunteers, launched a creative solution to get the therapy dogs back in the cancer center – in the form of life size cardboard pup doubles.

Karen Burdash, Moffitt Volunteer, shows off the cardboard cutouts of her dog, Gracie.
Karen Burdash, Moffitt Volunteer, shows off the cardboard cutouts of her dog, Gracie.

And while cardboard doesn’t have quite the same comforting appeal as a real-life canine, Costello says the cut outs have been a hit so far. 

“Last week when we were here setting up the display for the first time, a patient stopped and said, ‘Aww I really miss the dogs,’ and I said well, this is the best we can do right now but we’ll be back.”

Costello said the cutouts have definitely caught some onlookers by surprise. “They have to stop and take a second look because they almost look real. People really react to it. Even the staff loves it, too.”

The Volunteer Services team has created special versions of the cut outs with costumes and props to help celebrate the upcoming holiday seasons including Halloween!

The display will be located around the cancer center including the surgery waiting room, Red Valet lobby, Stabile Research Building and cafeteria entrance.

Volunteer Tina Costello poses with the cardboard pet therapy dog cut outs in Moffitt's main lobby.
Volunteer Tina Costello poses with the cardboard pet therapy dog cut outs in Moffitt's main lobby.

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