Therapy dogs bring smiles during times of anxiety and stress

Giggles and light squeals at the end of the hallway in the Hoops Family Children’s Hospital Pediatric Unit typically signify that a visitor is in a patient’s room. Not your average visitor, but one that greets each patient with a tail wag and a light bark.

Dick and Robin Ash have been bringing their therapy dogs to Cabell Huntington Hospital (CHH) for the past five years, beginning with

Bella and Bella

Bella Masters holds therapy dog, Bella, who was named after her during a filming session in which the two were featured. Bella follows Dick and Robin Ash’s first therapy dog, Angel.

their Shetland sheepdog, Angel.

Therapy dogs are trained to provide affection, comfort and love to people.  There are three different types of therapy dogs:

  • Therapeutic visitation dogs are household pets whose owners take time to visit hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities. These dogs help individuals who are away from home due to mental or physical illness.
  • Animal-assistedtherapy dogs assist physical and occupational therapists in meeting goals important to an individual’s recovery. Some tasks these dogs can help achieve include gaining motion in limbs, fine motor control and hand-eye coordination. Animal-assisted therapy dogs typically work in rehabilitation facilities.
  • Facility therapy dogs primarily work in nursing homes and are often trained to help patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other degenerative diseases. They are handled by a trained member of the staff and live at the facility.

“We started Angel in therapy dog training shortly after she was born in 2004,” said Robin Ash. “We decided to call her Angel because Lady, our previous Sheltie, had passed away and we needed an angel to help us through that difficult time.”

Angel passed her American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen (CGC) and therapy dog tests and joined Therapy Dog International in 2005. She began visiting nursing homes and the Ashes partnered with the Cabell County Library to participate in a Read to a Dog Program, which earned Angel recognition and honors.

Through all her visits to nursing homes, assisted living facilities and retirement communities, nothing was more exciting for Angel and her owners than visiting patients. She became the first official therapy dog for CHH, visiting hundreds of patients and visitors each week to offer a distraction and create calm for those who were anxious, nervous or upset. She passed away in 2017 at the age of 13.

To honor Angel’s memory, and to support the therapy dog program at CHH, the Cabell Huntington Hospital Foundation created the Angel Pet Therapy Fund. The fund helps cover the cost of training and allows additional dogs to get involved and serve the patients of CHH, Hoops Family Children’s Hospital and the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center as needed.

 “We miss her terribly, but we now have Bella to continue what Angel started,” she said.

Bella, who was affectionately named after Isabella Masters, a young patient who participated in a video with Angel in 2017, now visits patients throughout the week.

“She continues to bring smiles and a sense of calm for those who need it most,” Robin said. “The more dogs we have trained and visiting patients, the more comfort we can continue to bring to the hospital”.

For more information or to make a donation, visit https:\\chhfoundation.org\helping-cabell-huntington-hospital-pet-therapy\.