Wellness: If you feel like you’re going to the dogs | Lyn Filip, RN, BSN, OCN
There are days when I prefer to hang out with my dog. Dogs don’t just fill your heart; they make it stronger. Studies show that having a canine companion is linked to lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, and decreased triglyceride levels, which contribute to better overall cardiovascular health. Herbie, our basset hound, is just that. If I have a bad day, I come home and look at that face, stare into those eyes and I can’t help but feel my heart full of love. It is magic. I decided to take things one step further.
Herbie and I became certified as a Pet Therapy team. Four times a month, sometimes more, we volunteer at the local Ronald McDonald House and two times at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Pediatric Infusion Room. I had planned to work with adults, but as we trained, Herbie steered me in a different direction. He loves everyone but is truly enamored with children. When I say, “Let’s go see the kids,” he runs right into the laundry room for his teeth to be brushed (we have breath standards). Then he sits by the car. Our visits are pure joy. Herbie conducts them with love and grace. He may do tricks or he may just sleep on someone’s bed while being stroked and petted.
How can I go back to the hospital when I spend so much time there? I feel absolute joy upon entering the hospital with Herbie. He is a celebrity. Herbie does a variety of tricks: “Fire” “Stop, Drop, and Roll,” and “Downward Dog” with bacon as motivation. He gives high–actually low– fives and is great at “Sleeping Beauty” – lying on his side. Herbie also does a few tricks in Spanish. When Herbie enters a patient’s room, he transforms it. Smiles appear, hands are reached out to him. A sense of escape and joy is seen in almost every face: patients, visitors and staff. One patient looked down at Herbie as we entered and said, “I prayed for this.” Herbie just wagged away. There was magic in that very room. Herbie was the healer. I just held the leash. At the end of the day, on the ride home I am sure to tell him that he is just the best therapy dog. He knows exactly what I am saying. We both are smiling.
Dog therapy is my passion. Herbie and I are a team. People in the hospital often ask me where Herbie is. Wellness to me is not dependent on hours in the day but my sense of purpose, creativity and passion. I want to experience joy. It is all that and a bit more with Herbie.
Herbie has an Instagram account. When we leave a room and a child asks, “When are you coming back?” they get Herbie’s trading card (provided by UNC) and Instagram account. They can visit him anytime. We go for the laugh each day. Herbie and I receive so much affection for the work he does. Gotta love social media. @herbiethetherapybasset
Lyn Filip RN, BSN, OCN, is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC.