There’s a special kind of therapy being performed at Georgetown University Hospital that can help patients of all kinds. This particular form of therapy comes with four legs, a tail, and a wet nose.
Her name is Twink E. Twinkle—a 5-year-old pug (the middle initial 'E' stands for 'exceptional', according to her owner). She makes her rounds at Georgetown every Thursday morning, visiting sick adults who are too ill to be at home with their own pets and families.
“Our goal is to give love,” explained Twinkle’s owner Mary Berard, a volunteer from Olney, Maryland. Now a retiree, Berard said she suffered badly from burns as a child and had to be quarantined for several months. To make her feel less isolated, her father bought her a puppy which she says “brought her back to life.” Now, she wants to help others have the same experience.
“Dogs have an uncanny sense of purpose. Twinkle just knows the need. I think our visits bring the patients the outside world when they don’t know what’s happening next with their illness,” said Berard.
For Teresa Ross, a patient from Largo, Maryland battling pulmonary disease, it’s just what the doctor ordered.
“I have a dog at home and while I’m in the hospital here, I’ve missed my Ziggy so much,” Ross told Berard and Twinkle during a recent visit. “You have made my day. You have done so much for me. I’m serious—you all are too sweet. If I ever have to come back here, I’m going to ask for you!”
It’s not just the patients who benefit from the dog’s visits. Berard says the faces of the staff also light up whenever Twinkle comes by.
Clinical manager Judi Bailey, RN, agrees, and says it’s therapy that works. “I think animals have a way of bringing out the best part of people. It makes them want to go home. It makes them want to get on with their life.”
Not just any dog can be a pet therapist—it takes a special kind of canine. Twinkle had to undergo a stringent training and testing process in order to be certified through the National Capital Therapy Dogs Inc. Berard says the dogs must have a temperament suitable for a hospital, and can’t bark or show any reaction to noise, since they never know what they’ll encounter.
“Dogs are a gift to people. They have an instinct. If someone is extremely needy, I see her inch closer and I watch their face and I can see the stress in their face just relax,” said Berard. “Patients want to know if she can spend the night and we say, ‘no, but we’ll come back!’”
There are about 60 volunteer animal teams from National Capital Therapy Dogs Inc. which visit over 20 facilities in the Washington/Baltimore area, including major hospitals, assisted living centers, hospices and shelters. NCTD teams also visit schools and public libraries for animal assisted reading programs.
Media Contact: Meggie Davis
Patient Contact: 202-342-2400