Newfoundlands help patients smile through chemo

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Mar 16, 2015

Therapy dogs visit patients at Compass Oncology in Tualatin

By Jennifer Hoff, KOIN 6

To dog lovers, it’s a no brainer – canine companions bring a lot of comfort. But for the first time, a study has proven the effects of therapy dogs, some of whom have been in a Tualatin cancer clinic for years.

Compass Oncology nurse Jen Steen-Reavis has regularly seen three-year-old Shadrach and eight-month-old Meshack. But the 38-year-old isn’t just an employee, she’s a patient.

“I don’t think there’s a drug we have in our arsenal of feel-good medication that can give what these animals do for patients,” said Steen-Reavis, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer nine years ago.

And when the clinic’s Newfoundland therapy dogs visit people during chemotherapy, their quality of life can increase.

“If you can give it (chemo) with pet therapy, it’s a much better way to bring down anxiety levels and also gives them something to look forward to coming to the clinic,” said Dr. Kathleen Fielder, an oncologist at Compass Oncology.

Doctors have long suspected the bond between people and animals can be healing, but now, for the first time, there’s scientific proof.

Researchers at Mount Sinai Beth Israel conducted a study and found that patients receiving intensive radiation therapy for gastrointestinal, head or neck cancers, experienced increases in emotional well-being and quality of life when they received visits from a certified therapy dog during the course of their treatment.

“This study is the first such definitive study in cancer and it highlights the merits of animal-assisted visits using the same scientific standards as we hold for the cancer treatment itself,” said Stewart B. Fleishman, MD, principal investigator and Founding Director of Cancer Supportive Services at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.

“It’s just something great to be a part of and see what they actually do for people,” said Susan Reznicsek, an owner of six of the 150-pound dogs. They come to the clinic twice a month, but doctors said the new study might influence it to schedule the dogs more regularly.

If you’re interested in seeing the dogs more, click here to visit their Facebook page.