ROCK ISLAND, Illinois – One of the most moving tributes to the Former President George H.W. Bush was a silent gesture from his service dog, Sully.
Bush was matched with Sully this summer after the death of his wife, Barbara Bush.
The support dogs bring can be seen daily at UnityPoint Health Trinity where therapy dogs are used to help patients heal.
Sophie is a six-year-old golden retriever who is part of the “Caring Canine Program” where dogs visit patients to help them relieve stress.
“It gives me a chance to get out, gives her a chance to get out burn some energy, and it’s good for everybody,” says Sophie’s owner, Jayne Pearson.
“Therapy dogs go through a specific six-week training,” explains Lexy Watson of UnityPoint Health Trinity. “They start off with their basic six-week obedience program and then they are certified to interact with patients, but they aren’t certified to perform a certain task, like service dogs.”
The “Caring Canine Program” started back in 2011 with nine dogs. Now, they have 53 dogs with at least one visiting every day.
“No one is here because they want to be here, but if they can get a dog visit and remind them of their pets at home they found a huge positive impact,” Watson says.
Rebecca Bancks has been in the hospital for over two weeks. After hours of lying in bed, Sophie becomes the highlight of her day.
“It’s an absolute day brightener,” says Bancks. “There’s just something that happens when you have that therapeutic interaction with a dog.”
“They are used to someone coming in with needles and tests, and questions,” explains Watson. “But, then someone comes in with a dog and for no other reason than to make you smile.”
Patients can now relieve stress and heal faster – thanks to the power of dogs like Sophie.
“She knows the word ‘hospital’ now, and this morning I said, “we are going to the hospital,” and she starts wagging her tail and really wanted to go,” Pearson comments.
Last year the dogs visited about 13,000 patients and this year they are close to visiting 20,000 patients.