Pet therapy offers dose of good medicine

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Jackie's face lights up as the wet nose brushes her leg and the bright eyes stare up into her face.

Jackie is spending time with a four-legged, furry therapist named Jenny, and, for a brief moment, the pre-teen and her family can forget they're in an exam room at the Cotton-O'Neil Cancer Center, waiting to hear news from her latest labs.

Jackie visits the Cancer Center once a week with her human sidekick, Carlie Gurske.

"It just helps them to forget what's going on," Gurske said. "It's a happy time during the treatment."

Gurske knew she wanted to get an animal and train for these visits as soon as she retired four years ago. She was inspired by the therapy dogs who would stop in during the decades she worked as an oncology nurse.

"I looked forward to Wednesdays. I had my own supply of dog treats and it was my time to sort of just forget what was going on," she recalls.

It's the same for the patients Carlie and Jenny visit now.

"She just lights up the place when she comes in here," remarks one man who gladly awakened from a nap to greet the canine guest.

"She comes along and just makes me feel good. How can I describe it any other way?" says another woman, as Jenny lays a protective paw across her foot.

With that paw, Jenny can have the same impact as a pill. Studies show spending time with a pet can reduce blood pressure and promote relaxation.

"I don't think she realizes how much joy she can bring to a person's life. I've had people cry when I walk in with her, they say it means so much," Gurske said.

In addition to the Cancer Center, Jenny and Carlie also visit patients in the senior care unit and at nursing facilities. The time with patients is a dose of therapy for Carlie, too.

"It's a real blessing. They are a blessing to my life," she said.

Carlie and Jenny went through special training to earn certification, testing reactions to thing a patient might do like pet or grab, and things they might encounter in a medical setting like noise and equipment.

Jenny gets re-certified every two years through an organization called Pet Partners.

The Prairieland Visiting Animals Association can help if you think you and your pet would be a good therapy team.