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May 21, 2020

Puppy love is real as therapy dogs who have been quarantined at home during the pandemic long to get back to work, lapping up all the attention.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Quarantining is hard. We miss our families, our friends, our favorite restaurants and coffee shops. But at least we know why things are the way they are.

Imagine if you are a lovable pup who thrives on meeting people during his or her “job” at local hospitals, and suddenly you can’t do that anymore.

Nancy Canning caught her 12-year-old labradoodle Quigley looking forlornly out the window one day this spring and captured the moment in a photo. She added words to the photo and shared it on social media: “Missing you! Thank you, healthcare heroes. We may be apart, but you are always in my heart! Looking forward to seeing you again.” Signed, Quigley (and family)

Quigley might not understand why she is stuck at home, but she knows that her humans, Nancy and Peter, no longer get out her special collar and leash or carry her “work” backpack from the garage to the car.

The pet therapy program at IU Health was suspended in March as the coronavirus pandemic swept into Indiana. Hospital procedures were revised to reduce the risk of infection, non-essential procedures were canceled, and visitors were restricted. Volunteers could no longer come in to help in the toy room at Riley Hospital for Children, or play music at Simon Cancer Center or visit patients at any of the hospitals.

Pet therapy is an integral part of the volunteer program and the patient experience within IU Health. The dogs and their handlers must be trained and licensed, and there are strict rules governing hand hygiene and access to patient rooms. And this was before the pandemic.

Now, the dogs and their humans wait.

Peter Canning said Quigley seems to be staring out the window a little more these days. She’s sleeping more too, he said.

“Part of that is she’s getting older, but I also believe doing therapy work keeps her mind engaged, with the different smells, sights and people,” he said. “Quigley likes interacting with people, obviously, as a therapy dog, and so I think she’s maybe bored and just missing interactions with other people. She’s not getting that stimulation.”

A therapy dog for six years, Quigley works at IU Health North Hospital, IU Health Saxony Hospital and Riley. She had a pretty good routine going for the past few years, visiting a couple of hospitals each week and getting to know the patients and staff.

When she would enter a patient’s room with Nancy and Peter, she could sense within the first few seconds whether that patient wanted to just look at her, pet her or cuddle with her in bed, Peter said.

“She’s ready to meet every person where they are.”

A semi-retired infectious disease specialist, he understands better than most the importance of the precautions being taken by hospitals today regarding pet therapy, but he worries about Quigley being sidelined at her age.

“She’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime dog for me. We are acutely aware that at some point she’s not going to be able to do this, and we’re losing valuable time. It’s no one’s fault,” he said. “It’s just sad.”

Here’s a look at a few other therapy dogs within IU Health and messages from their humans:

Brad Hoop and his therapy dog, Gus, a 130-pound Bullmastiff, are eager to return to Riley as well. Gus “loves to be loved,” said Hoop, a cancer survivor who understands the comfort dogs provide to patients and staff during their visits. The wrinkled-faced canine laps up the attention from adoring kids and grownups.

During the quarantine, Gus and Hoop have been keeping each other’s spirits up.

“I give him lots of attention, including cuddle time,” Hoop said. “I take him for car rides so we can be out of the house. And he likes to play tug-of-war with his toys or my socks.”

Joey and Foo, pet companions at home and at work, are missing their visits to Riley and are ready to get back as soon as possible, said their owner, Nikki Phillips.

“In the meantime, they both are enjoying the spring weather, watching for and chasing squirrels in the backyard, taking long naps (Foo snores) and cuddling with their family,” Phillips said. “Joey is a ball hound and loves the chance to play whenever she can. She also likes to supervise while we play the Memory game.”

Caroline Hanson of West Lafayette and her mini goldendoodle Henry have been visiting IU Health Arnett Hospital for four years, and he also loves visiting the staff at IU Health West Hospital.

“Henry is a sweet boy who loves sharing the love with new friends at the hospital,” Hanson said via text. “He loves sharing a bed with patients or just getting a loving pat from staff. We miss visiting but keep our spirits up by playing more and spending lots of time outside.”

Meanwhile, Karen Newhall’s pups, Ruby, Tess and Quinn, can be distracted by a few bones thrown their way. Ruby is a regular at Riley and is looking forward to her return to the children’s hospital.

When restrictions are lifted and the pet therapy program can begin again, Karen Hauschild’s dog Trixie might have some new tricks up her sleeve. She has been learning tricks that she wants to show off when she can visit Riley again, Hauschild said.

Gary Nowling has been sending photos of his therapy dogs, Rhett and Ashby, to the volunteer coordinator at Arnett so she can share them virtually at least. It’s one way the puppy pals can continue to lift spirits even while visits are off-limits.

The IU Health pet therapy program might be on pause, but these dogs and their canine colleagues throughout the system are ready to lift their paws and say hello again when the time is right.

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