Canine comfort: Therapy dogs at UPMC cancer center bring soothing and smiles

She’s tall, furry, and makes people smile.

The 115-pound dog walks the halls of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside every Thursday.

When the animal goes for a walk with owner Amy Bischoff, the couple certainly attracts attention.

You will be stopped within the first few steps. Questions are asked.

What’s the name of the dog? Which race? Can I pet the dog?

Her name is Olive and she is a Newfoundland woman. And yes, she would love to have someone caress her back and rub her head.

Olive, who will turn 10 in December, is a therapy dog ​​trained by Therapy Dogs United in the Pittsburgh location.

Kristina Serafini | Grandstand review

Amy Bischoff from Wilkinsburg is holding the leash of her therapy dog ​​Olive, a 9-year-old Newfoundland woman, at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside on August 6, 2021. Bischoff, a cancer patient, brings Olive to the center of the ghosts of other cancer patients.

When Olive was in training, a representative from UPMC Hillman came over and talked about the therapy program. Since Bischoff had a connection with UPMC Hillman, she got in touch and decided to join the animal therapy program.

Olive is the seventh Newfoundland dog for Bischoff, 61 from Wilkinsburg and second therapy dog.

Olive comforts everyone, said Bischoff, who knows that firsthand. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, which returned in a more aggressive form last year.

When she was diagnosed, she turned to her Newfoundland for comfort. The dog helped her so much that she decided to buy another puppy – Olive – and train her in animal therapy.

Everything during the treatment. According to the American Kennel Club, the breed is perfect as a therapy pet. These dogs are sweet, devoted, and patient.

Olive brings comfort, said Alicia Beattie, a division manager at UPMC Hillman.

“They provide happy moments for patients who may be nervous or not sure how they will feel after treatment,” said Beattie. “They can also be a welcome distraction.”

Olive has many friends from staff to patients, Bischoff said. This is one of the reasons why Bischoff brings olive with him every week.

She and Olive continued to visit her every week until the pandemic broke out.

In March 2020, the volunteer programs, which included the therapy dogs, were discontinued due to Covid-19. UPMC Hillman had life-size cut-outs of some of the pet therapy dogs made to place around the building.

The idea was that patients and staff should still see the dogs to remind them that the animals were still part of the volunteer team.

Bischoff contacted UPMC Hillman to bring Olive back in June. Bischoff said the quality of medical treatment she received at UPMC Hillman inspired her to volunteer to give back.

“I was told that Olive made her day and that is exactly what I needed today,” said Bischoff.

She started treatment, and when she heard that pet therapy could be resumed, she took the chance. She said it was an opportunity to comfort patients and thank the staff who were taking care of “me” again, she said.

“We hope that therapy dogs like Olive make people happy,” said Rachel Wyzkoski, UPMC Hillman Volunteer Coordinator. “It calms and helps people relax. The dogs are so uplifting and people can’t wait to see them. You are looking for them. “

There are eight therapy dogs.

Della Skeria and her mother, Leota McMillen from Somerset, who were both treated at UPMC Hillman, lay down on the floor to pet and play with the animal.

“She’s beautiful,” said McMillen.

“I love this dog,” said Skeria. “I have a cat at home and it is therapy for me. Pets help to alleviate worries. “

Kristina Serafini | Grandstand review

Amy Bischoff from Wilkinsburg (left) is standing with her therapy dog ​​Olive, a 9-year-old Newfoundland dog, while Dr. Vikram Gorantla being petted at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside. Bischoff, a cancer patient, brings Olive to the center to lift the spirits of other cancer patients.

A dog is a man and a woman’s best friend, said Dr. Vikram C. Gorantla, UPMC Hillman oncologist.

“These dogs give unconditional love,” Gorantla said as he watched Skeria and McMillen petting Olive on the floor. “This is a beautiful sight. Animals can sense things. “

At the end of the day, he said it wasn’t just about oncology. It’s about talking to patients and understanding the person they are, and it’s about empathy.

Cancer doesn’t define them.

“These dogs help to reduce stress and are immune boosters,” said Gorantla. “Everyone should have a pet. We are lucky to have Olive. “

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is the author of Tribune Review. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, jharrop@triblive.com, or on Twitter.

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