Meet our newest service puppy in training

November 13, 2017

Boston terrier Duke preps to bring joy to cancer patients

  • Duke has a mentor, fellow Boston terrier Eddie
  • Both dogs are trained to be a comforting presence
  • Duke will be ready for service next year
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Duke has some big shoes to fill. His mentor and fellow Boston terrier, Eddie, is a 12-year vet whose animal-assisted therapy services have brought joy and comfort to countless patients in challenging times. Duke, who’s still a puppy, will undergo training for the next year under Eddie’s guidance with the goal of bringing the same comforting spirit to brain cancer patients in need. 

Eddie and Duke’s owner, Robyn Callahan, is a licensed independent social worker at the Ben and Catherine Ivy Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment and she’s seen the impact that her therapy dogs have had on patients firsthand. “I provide emotional support to patients who have been diagnosed with a brain tumor and their families, including individual psychotherapy. We also provide animal-assisted therapy,” says Callahan.

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She continues, “I enjoy meeting amazing people and having the opportunity to support patients through a difficult yet important time in their life, and my dogs are great contributors to that.”

“Eddie has been integral in providing emotional support to cancer patients for over 10 years now. But as he ages, his energy levels have decreased so he is only able to do part-time work. That’s why I have started bringing Duke along on therapy rounds. He’s training under Eddie in preparation to take his place when needed,” adds Callahan.

Animal-assisted therapy, or pet therapy, helps patients cope with health problems by reducing stress, improving mood and providing distraction from the pain of their illness. Studies have found that patients who visit with animals have decreased levels of cortisol and increased levels of endorphins. In fact, one study even pointed out that patients who had dogs visit them during radiation therapy found they felt better than those who didn’t.

Pets who are trained in this service are typically brought to hospitals or health centers to visit with patients for a period of time. Besides dogs, other animals including cats, birds and even farm animals have been shown to cheer up patients through therapy. One reason this therapy works is based on animal intuition.

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“Eddie is fairly intuitive and sensitive to people and has comforted many patients as they’ve been at the end of life. If someone is crying, he knows to come out and put his head in their lap, stay with them and comfort them. Even though Duke is training right now, he’s very good at keeping patients mindful and in the present moment when talking about the unknowns in their futures. And since he’s a puppy, he makes people smile,” says Callahan.

She adds, “Therapy dogs can be trained to do a lot of things. Eddie is trained to be a comforting presence, and Duke will be trained the same way as well. That includes doing tricks, playing dress up and keeping kids busy. When patients are first diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, they experience a lot of change. Just having an animal that offers unconditional love in such a difficult time of life is amazing.” 

But it’s not just the patients that the dogs impact. “I also find that therapeutic work takes place with the staff. When the dogs visit Swedish Cherry Hill they do their rounds and come back in to visit with the doctors and staff. It actually helps them relieve a lot of stress they are feeling from working with patients with life-limiting diagnoses. It helps calm them, and in turn, affects the way they work with the patients. Everyone looks forward to seeing them on their rounds,” says Callahan.

Even though Duke is only five months old, he’s learning a lot from his owner and Eddie. “They are special dogs, and Duke is learning commands really well. In the next 12 months, he should be ready to take his exam and be a full-fledged animal-assisted therapy dog,” adds Callahan.

Fun facts about Eddie and Duke: They are both named after Hawaiian surfers and can actually smile. Good luck training, Duke! We look forward to seeing you around.

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