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Valley View fetches help from Heeling Partners

A mess of warm fuzzies are now among the health care options offered at Valley View Hospital.

Since May, special dogs and their owners have been visiting patients in the acute rehabilitation department at the hospital, offering a little TLC to patients.

On Thursday, Laura Van Dyne and her Portuguese water dog, Ducky, visited two patients on the acute rehab floor.



Steve Lama, once a UPS driver in GLenwood Springs, who now lives at Lake Powell, is recovering from a knee replacement.

Ducky and Van Dyne appeared at the door and asked if they could come in.



“Sure,” Lama said.

Ducky walked right up to the bed, and with a glance back at Van Dyne, put his face up to be petted.

“He’s a pretty dog,” Lama said.

Once a clean sheet had been placed on the bed, Ducky was invited to put his front paws up. He looked as if he’d love to just jump in bed with Lama, but Van Dyne nixed the idea.

“You’re a good boy,” Lama said. “I have a little American Eskimo at home who’s guarding the house.”

Lama admitted having a visit from Ducky was just what the doctor ordered.

“Having a dog here makes me feel better,” Lama said.

Ducky is one of a handful of dogs certified to act as Heeling Partners, a project organized by the Roaring Fork Kennel Club and Valley View Hospital.

Kennel club member and past president Laura Wright-Smith was instrumental in getting it started.

“We started it last April. Valley View Hospital approached us,” she said.

Since the hospital adopted the Plane Tree initiative over a year ago, it has sought ways to make patients’ stays better, such as offering massage therapy.

Wright-Smith said dog owners showed strong interest in the program.

Both dogs and owners go through a rigorous training and are certified through the Delta Society, which sets standards for therapy animals.

Wright-Smith said the group hopes to bring dogs into local nursing homes and even schools, where children having trouble reading could read to dogs.

Heeling Partner Dr. Rick Bochner and his pal Forrest, although not yet certified, entertained staff and visitors in the lobby of the acute care department Thursday.

Forrest, a Great Pyrenees, is massive – he’s 170 pounds – but plainly loves the attention.

Bochner volunteered, he said, “because I love animals and Forrest loves people.”

“The beneficial effects of animal visits to patients is well documented,” he said.

The idea is to bring a little more attention to people facing long convalescence, he added.

Ducky’s next stop was just down the hall. Emma Zang also had knee replacement surgery. Ducky strutted into her room as if he owns the place.

Again, Van Dyne placed a clean sheet on the bed and Ducky promptly put his paws up. Zang reached out a hand and stroked his curly white and black fur.

“You want a cookie?” she asks him.

Wright-Smith took Polaroid photographs of Lama and Zang, giving one to each patient to remember their visit with Ducky and keeping one for herself.

“I’m making a scrapbook,” she said.

Wright-Smith also praises the volunteers who have stepped forward to make the program work. Oncologist Dr. Ira Jaffrey and his wife, Sandy, are involved in the program and their golden retriever, Boomer, is a Heeling Partner-in-training.

“We have a great group of volunteers,” Wright-Smith said.


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