TMC celebrates pets in three September events

Pets can be part of a healthy lifestyle, from lowering blood pressure to reducing stress and encouraging owners to move more.

With the last week of September National Dog Week, TMC is going to the dogs (and cats) in three separate pet-friendly events at The Core at La Encantada.

  • Think your pup has what it takes to be a therapy dog to help cheer up patients, visitors and staff in the hospital? Come find out how to join TMC’s Pet Therapy team and – with the help of Pet Partners of Southern Arizona – learn the ins and outs of getting certified on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 10 a.m. Click here to register.
  • If you have a pet, you’ve probably at some point contemplated whether pet food, pet toys and cleaning products are OK for the environment. Come learn about environmentally friendly pet care with Mrs. Green’s World on Sunday, Sept. 24 at 2 p.m. Click here to register.
  • Pima Animal Care Center has thousands of pets each year (like PACC alumni Chester shown here) looking for a new home – and new exercise buddies. Join Care Center staff in learning more about how to exercise safely with your pet on Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 5:30 p.m. Click here to register.

Pets are welcome at these three events. Find out more by visiting The Core at La Encantada.

Peppi’s House celebrates Bogey’s 15th birthday

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Bogey first visited Peppi’s House, TMC’s inpatient hospice unit, when he was a wee pug pup of 6 months. Penny Lundstrom, his human companion, had him certified at as a therapy dog at 18 months, the minimum age. And the two have been visiting patients and families at Peppi’s House ever since. Today, Lundstrom and the staff at Peppi’s House celebrated Bogey’s 15th birthday.

“At this age he can barely walk up the street,” Lundstrom said. “But we come here and he runs!”

Bogey has soothed agitated patients and calmed nervous family members.

Once he was taken into a room with a woman who hadn’t communicated since she had a stroke two weeks prior. Her hand was placed on Bogey and she began to pet him. When he was taken away, she vocalized as best she could indicating she wanted the dog back.

The patient was one of thousands of people Bogey has visited over the years. While he might not run — or hear — as well as he did in his youth, Bogey puts on the charm as he greets people, sneaks a lick of icing and brings smiles to all he meets.

From devastating diagnosis to full recovery

Renee Sowards recovers after a tumor was removed from her spine. Her Akita, Keigo, stayed with her during her stay at TMC.

Renee Sowards recovers after a tumor was removed from her spine. Her Akita, Keigo, stayed with her during her stay at TMC.

For Tucson resident Renee Sowards, life took a 180-degree turn in three short months.  Last January, she was diagnosed with a tumor in her spine. It was serious enough that it was causing her to lose mobility in her legs and it required surgery.

Once she was diagnosed, Sowards did some research on which neurosurgeon she would literally trust her life with.  She decided to go with TMC’s Dr. Abhay Sanan from the Center for Neurosciences.  She called his office to get the new patient process started and hadn’t even made an appointment yet when she received a phone call that confirmed she had made the right choice.

“My phone rang at eight o’clock on a Sunday night.  It was Dr. Sanan.  He said he needed to see me right away, and I told him I had jury duty the next day.  He paused and asked, ‘So I take it you’re still ambulatory?’  I knew right then that my situation was very serious,” she said.  “Because of where the tumor was located, I stood a great chance of losing my legs.”

Renee Sowards enjoying the Sonoran desert more than a year after a tumor was removed from her spine.

Sowards enjoys the desert more than a year after a  tumor was removed at TMC.

Two weeks later, Sowards was in the operating room.  After several hours, she emerged from surgery and was told that it was a success.  When she learned she would spend the next five days at TMC recovering, Sowards had a unique request for hospital staff.  “I asked if Keigo, our 140-pound well-behaved Akita could stay with me in my room.”  To her surprise, the answer was yes.  “It was so comfortable to be able to sit in my chair and just rub my toes on him as he lay at my feet.  Having him there really helped me heal,” she said.  “My husband had a hard time leaving my side when I was going through this.  Knowing that I was receiving the best care and had Keigo with me gave him the peace of mind he needed to go home at night.”

Since her surgery and stay, Sowards has made a complete recovery and eventually headed back to work. “I had such excellent care at TMC, and Dr. Sanan was so wonderful,” said Sowers.



An ordinary visit; an extraordinary honor for a TMC therapy dog

Jamie TMC Pet Therapy Dog

TMC Pet Therapy Dog

A 70-pound Golden Retriever with silky blonde fur, a friendly face and a sweet demeanor undoubtedly attracts a lot of attention wherever she goes, and when Spencer Harman takes his dog Jamie out in public, that’s exactly what happens. 

Spencer knew Jamie was an exceptional dog from day one.  “As a puppy, she tried to jump on the sofa.  I took her down and told her ‘no’ one time – and that’s all it took.  She hasn’t jumped on the furniture since.” 

Fast forward a few years.  Spencer enrolled his loving, furry friend in training class to become a certified therapy dog.  Jamie passed with flying colors and joined the TMC Pet Therapy team two years ago.  The 8-year-old is a welcome sight to patients.  Spencer laughed recalling one story in particular.  “There was an elderly lady who got out of her hospital bed and down on the floor because she wanted to pet Jamie.  And I thought ‘Oh my gosh – What do I do now?’  One of the doctors walked in and said, ‘That’s alright – I’ve been trying to get her out of that bed for over a week.’”

“Jamie greets a lot of people everywhere she goes,” said Spencer.  “People are especially happy to see her in the surgical waiting area.  She brings a little sunshine to folks who are anxiously awaiting word on their loved one.”

Christmas Day, 2012

This past Christmas Day, Spencer didn’t have much going on at his house and thought that maybe some patients would enjoy a visit from Jamie.  He brushed her out, put her vest on her, and headed over to TMC where they spent some time in unit 700.  A woman came up to him and asked if he could please bring Jamie to her father’s room, which he did.  “I remember he was an older gentleman,” recalled Spencer.  “He was just taken by Jamie.  He reached over the side of the bed and just kept petting her and smiling.  We visited him for a few minutes, and then we went on our way.” 

Little did Spencer know that those few minutes impacted that patient in a way he never imagined.

A twist of fate

Spencer and Jamie’s morning tradition includes a walk to Starbucks so that he can drink his coffee while she visits with customers.  On an ordinary day in January, something extraordinary happened.  “A woman named Karen came up to me and reminded me that Jamie and I had visited her father in TMC on Christmas Day.  Her father, a Vietnam veteran, was discharged around New Year’s, and passed away a week later.  Before he passed, he asked his daughter to find Jamie and give her his Purple Heart medal.” 

Spencer Harman with Jamie

Spencer Harman
with Jamie

As she told the story to Spencer, Karen pulled a little cloth handkerchief out of her purse, and presented him with the medal.  He admitted that took a while for everything to soak in.  “I took it home, and when I pinned it on Jamie’s vest, I was so proud that she had impressed somebody like that.  All I know is that she brought smiles and a few minutes of peace to the man in that bed that day,” he said.

Karen had tracked them down with the help of TMC nurses, who knew where the two typically spent their mornings. “When Karen approached me that morning, I thought she was just coming to say hello to Jamie.  I never expected this to happen,” he said. 

Spencer tried to get the woman’s contact information, but in a hurry and late for her flight back to Chicago, she took down his information instead and said she would send him some pictures of her father in the service.  Spencer has yet to hear from her, but holds out hope that one day he’ll learn more about the man who earned the medal his pup wears now.  “I’ve got a proud little gal here, and I’m proud of her,” he boasted. 

Spencer recalled a day a while back when a man was walking his dog in the opposite direction in the Starbucks parking lot. “He looked over and when he saw Jamie, he saluted me.  Chills came over my body.  He was saluting the dog with the Purple Heart.”

For more information on TMC’s Pet Therapy program, please click here.

The Power of Pets

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Bijou might look like a walking cotton puff adorned with a bow, but he’s doing serious work to help patients at Tucson Medical Center get healthier.

The 8-year-old Bischon Frise and his owner, Peggi Patterson, come most Mondays to make the rounds to recovering adults and children, bringing smiles and a short distraction from the tubes and machines that are unavoidable during a hospital stay.

Although the pet therapy program at TMC started in 1998, science over time has continued to indicate pets can trigger therapeutic effects, from reducing blood pressure  to increasing natural levels of oxytocin, which has a strong connection to maternal behavior, social bonding and feelings of wellbeing.

Bijou and Peggi are part of nearly 40 active teams volunteering at TMC. Most participating pets are dogs, ranging from a six-pound Yorkshire Terrier to a 130-pound Great Dane. There is also one particularly accommodating cat and three miniature ponies.

For Patterson, who has been coming to TMC for six years, it’s a chance to give back. “It just makes you feel better if you can bring a smile to their face, even if it’s just for a few minutes.”

On a recent round of the pediatric unit, with Bijou breaking the ice, Patterson struck up a conversation with a high school senior, who said he thought he might work with animals someday. A 9-year-old boy was delighted when Bijou showed off a series of tricks, from sitting and rolling over to paw shaking. A 15-year-old girl said she hoped to get a Chihuahua when she got out of the hospital.

And so it went, the snow-white powder puff serving as a bridge for human connections.

“Patients often have a lot going on physically and emotionally, but when pets come in, all that anxiety, stress, pain and fear is just reduced to a remarkable degree,” said Monica Frisbie, the coordinator of the TMC Pet Therapy Program. “Family members, too, have a lot of anxiety, so it’s helpful for them. And for staff, who are going 100 miles per hour in high-anxiety jobs, even just to take a few minutes away to visit can help reduce their stress levels too.”

“It really is a very healing program.”

It’s not a bad gig for the pets, either. Penny Lundstrom, a volunteer of 12 years, said when Bogie, her 9-year-old pug, sees her put on her uniform, he goes to the door and waits patiently. He’s so fawned over and told he’s “cute” so many times, she jokes, that it’s clear to her she’s just the lady on the other end of the leash.

“I haven’t regretted it for a minute,” Lundstrom said. “I just think the value to the patients, the families and even the doctors and nurses is beyond words.”

In 2011, the teams worked nearly 900 hours at TMC and interacted with almost 9,400 patients, visitors and staff throughout the hospital, including adult units, pediatrics, Hospice, Palo Verde behavioral health and the surgery waiting room lobby.

Not all pets are appropriate for therapy, as longtime volunteer Carol Beagle can attest. She and Holly, a 13-year-old Sheltie, have been cheering up patients at TMC for 11 years.

Beagle, a retired second grade teacher, has two other dogs that aren’t appropriate for the program. A pet has to go through certification to make sure the animal doesn’t become agitated near wheelchairs, walkers, gurneys, canes and beeping machines. The animals can’t be aggressive to others and have to be friendly when approached. Owners, who must pass a background check, also attend orientation and shadow another team before going out on their own.

Holly isn’t the kind of dog to work a room. She’s quiet and patient and steady. But she’s had profound impacts. Beagle recalls going to intensive care once, where an elderly woman sat in a wheelchair. Staff indicated the woman had been unresponsive throughout her visit, to the point she wouldn’t even open her eyes when addressed. But when a nurse said Holly had come to visit, Beagle recalled, “She opened her eyes, looked at Holly and smiled. To this day, I remember that.”

Over the years, she’s been thanked for her service, which made all the grooming and the hours worth it. But she also got something out of it in return, she said. “Whenever I left, I always felt so good. Sometimes, people would say the visit was the best thing that happened to them all day, and it would just put a smile on my face.”

Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461