Heal, Sit and Stay

Donations Help Bring Man’s Best Friend to Roswell Park
Tuesday, November 24, 2015 - 1:43pm

Although Porsche never went to medical school, she sure knows how to make cancer patients and their families feel better.

Porsche, a 6-year-old Goldendoodle, is a new face at Roswell Park. Roswell’s furry friend visits a few times a month as part of the Institute’s Pet Therapy Program, made possible in part by generous donations. During her visits, Porsche trots around the hospital, calmly visiting anyone in need of a pick-me-up, providing unconditional love and a wag of her tail.

She’s only been volunteering with her owner, Sherry Sutton, for a few months, however, Porsche is already known for her signature trick — she gives her paw to almost everyone she meets.

“It always just makes me smile,” Cheryl Thompson, a patient who visits Roswell Park for treatment once a week, said while visiting with Porsche. “Dogs are very therapeutic, and it kind of makes you forget where you are for a moment.”

Twelve dogs of all different shapes and sizes take part in the Pet Therapy Program, and one of the dogs visits Roswell Park almost everyday. In addition to Porsche, there’s also Sierra, a beagle known for her ability to bark “hello”, Pepper, a Labrador that pediatric patients have nicknamed Dr. Pepper and two West Highland terriers who are often dressed up in matching outfits — just to name a few.

Like many of the patient-care programs at Roswell Park that provide social and emotional support, the Pet Therapy Program is made possible by support from the community. Patients’ consistently rate the program as one of their favorites, and studies show that these furry volunteers can improve wellbeing and morale, as well as reduce feelings of loneliness and depression.

But you don’t need to read a study to see the joy that these dogs can bring.

“If you walk through the waiting rooms, you can see that patients and their families are understandably preoccupied. They are thinking, ‘what’s going to happen with my next treatment, what tests do I have next?’” Nicole Gerber, a Roswell Park employee who, along with her English Setter, Monty, helped start the Pet Therapy Program in 2006, said. “When those patients see a dog, a smile comes over their face and you can sense a weight of worry or pain is relieved, even if only for a moment.”

During Porsche’s recent visit, she walked around with her owner, Sherry — who was inspired to start giving back after her family members’ own battles with cancer —as well as a Roswell Park volunteer Jim Hickey.

Jim recounted one of his favorite memories from his trips around the hospital.

Jim, Pepper and her owner were making their way around Roswell Park one day when Pepper purposefully walked over to a woman in a waiting area and put her head in the woman’s lap.

Jim began to apologize, but stopped mid-sentence when he saw the woman’s face.

“She just lit up,” Jim said. “She told us she was at Roswell Park with her father, who was facing a tough battle, and she was worried and upset. It was like Pepper just knew that she needed comforting. The woman said to us, ‘you don’t know how much that helped.’ That is one experience I will never forget.”