2011-01-26 / Front Page

Pet therapy helps cancer patients

By Gwen Sadler

Bayloni, a therapy dog, provides company to administrative secretary Susan Daniel and others at the Bon Secours Cancer Institute. 
Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Bayloni, a therapy dog, provides company to administrative secretary Susan Daniel and others at the Bon Secours Cancer Institute. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer When Pat Bodenheimer went in for her yearly mammogram last fall, she had no idea how much her rescued cat and a dog she’d never met would mean to her survival.

“I had decided not to get my yearly check-up,” Bodenheimer said. “But [my cat] Miss Kitty sat on my lap and patted my left breast with her right paw. She did that for four days. She’s not that loveable. I think she sensed something.”

Bodenheimer changed her mind, went for her exam and learned she had breast cancer.

“It was very minor, and they caught it in time.”

She underwent a lumpectomy. For a week after the procedure, Bodenheimer visited the Bon Sec- ours Cancer Institute in Midlothian twice a day for radiation treatments. That’s where she met Bayloni, a 5-year-old black lab/golden retriever mix.

Bayloni “works” at the institute as a valued member of the volunteer staff. Her owner, Lisa Tuzzo, is the department manager for radiation oncology there. Tuzzo got Bayloni when the dog was just a pup and raised her to become a service dog for Canine Companions. “They like to get puppies into socialization sites to get them used to [being around] people,” Tuzzo said of the organization. “I volunteered [the cancer institute].”

Bayloni traveled to New York for her training, but some of her behaviors were of concern to her handlers. “She didn’t do well as a service dog, but they thought she’d be a great therapy dog.”

Because she’d been through the intense training in New York, her “test” to become a therapy dog was cursory and easy for her to pass. Tuzzo began bringing her to the institute on a daily basis.

The institute’s director, Teresa Crist, was happy to oblige. “She’s a conversation piece. She’s relaxing and comforting [to patients],” Crist said. “Any time we can ease someone’s anxiety levels, they will be more at peace. [She helps to] open channels of communication with patients.”

Bayloni’s “job” is to hang out in her designated space until she’s needed. While she’s tucked away from the main reception room so that anyone who isn’t fond of dogs won’t be intimidated, she’s always accessible to patients who want her comfort in the radiology department or anywhere else in the building.

When they let her, Bayloni “just walks around,” Crist said. “If people want to pet her, she’ll stop to let them.” Her skills are most in need during patients’ consultations with cancer institute staff or during chemotherapy or radiation infusion.

Bayloni’s magic worked for 70-year-old Bodenheimer. “She was a great pleasure,” Bodenheimer said. “[The treatment] was uncomfortable, but I looked forward to seeing her. She made me feel relaxed. I saw her before my treatments, and I didn’t mind them so much. It was a comfort.”

Crist said the feedback they’ve received from those who’ve taken advantage of Bayloni’s presence has been positive. Some have suggested that they let her out more often. “Our goal is to increase pet therapy at other locations because we’ve have such a great reaction to [Bayloni],” Crist said.

Every day when she went for her treatment, Bodenheimer took a treat for Bayloni. Though doctors cleared Bodenheimer to return to work this month, she still has follow-up visits. “I’ll continue to take her doggy bones,” she said.

Visitors to the institute in need of succor aren’t the only ones who enjoy Bayloni’s calming influence. “She’s a big help to patients, but she’s also a big help to the staff,” Tuzzo said. “If somebody’s having a bad day, they can pet her for a while and feel better.”

Sounds just like what any doctor would order.

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