Pet therapy dogs give Grossmont Hospital patients and personnel a Halloween treat

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Hospitals can be frightening places. But the scares and spooks were all about friendly fun on Oct. 28, as the canine members of the therapy pet program at Sharp Grossmont Hospital donned Halloween costumes for a parade visiting patients and staffers throughout the medical facility’s campus. The dogs masqueraded as a varied set of characters, from Super-Dog, to witch, and with Brutus and Milagra slyly wearing doctor and nurse garb in a nod to their surroundings.

Hospitals can be frightening places. But the scares and spooks were all about friendly fun on Oct. 28, as the canine members of the therapy pet program at Sharp Grossmont Hospital donned Halloween costumes for a parade visiting patients and staffers throughout the medical facility’s campus. The dogs masqueraded as a varied set of characters, from Super-Dog, to witch, and with Brutus and Milagra slyly wearing doctor and nurse garb in a nod to their surroundings.

Therapy pets have been available as effective medical treatment measures for nearly 25 years, said Linda Van Fulpen, manager of volunteer services at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. Program volunteers usually bring dogs around individually to meet with patients admitted to the hospital who have requested a visit. The program operates daily, and Sharp Grossmont’s is the largest therapy pet program in the entire Sharp HealthCare organization.

The costume parade is new though. This idea was the brainchild of a meeting of the hospital’s Reward and Recognition Committee. When someone asked whether the therapy dogs might dress up to visit at Halloween, Van Fulpen jumped at the suggestion, saying, “They sure will. They will just have to choose which costumes to wear.” This year’s was the third Therapy Pet Halloween Parade at Sharp Grossmont.

“The patients love it, and we always create quite a commotion. This is a real morale booster, not only for the patients but for the staff and physicians too,” Van Fulpen said.

The smile on patient Michael May’s face was confirmation. May, a retired firefighter from the Lake Murray-San Carlos area, was in the hospital’s infusion center receiving treatment for colon cancer, when the parade of costumed dogs walked past his recliner, some stopping to give May special attention. May noted that this was his first exposure to the Halloween-themed event and that he was really enjoying it. Since retirement, May has been traveling so often that he has not adopted a new companion animal.

Michael Colombo and his therapy dog Shiloh stopped for a lengthy visit with May, conversing about mutual acquaintances. Shiloh, herself a three-and-a-half year-old beagle, was doubly masquerading as Snoopy, the beloved fictional Peanuts comic strip beagle, dressed up as the Red Baron. Colombo wore Charlie Brown’s signature yellow zigzag shirt to complement Shiloh’s costume. Colombo said that he and Shiloh have been with the Sharp Grossmont therapy program for two years. Shiloh was a rescued dog, and she and Colombo currently live in Santee. Her specialized therapy training and certification came from Love on a Leash, the local volunteer organization for pet provided therapy.

“I should have retired ten years earlier,” Colombo said. “Of all the things I have time for now, this is one of the important ones. This is the Sharp experience. This is a patient-centered partnership. We often follow patients for years.”

Colombo reported that he and Shiloh have seen dramatic turnarounds during their visits, with patients showing such marked improvements in conditions as lowered blood pressure, alleviation of severe anxiety and relief of migraine pain.

Colombo commented that as unusual as the large gathering of therapy dogs for the Halloween parade was, all the animals behaved as thoughtfully and affectionately as they do during their regular hospital visits. Shiloh’s specialization as a therapy dog is longer stays with a few patients rather than quick in-and-out visits. Bailey, by contrast, is a Maltie-Poo who stops by briefly and sees 20 to 30 patients during her twice monthly two-hour therapy sessions. She was dressed up as a schoolgirl, wearing a gray sweater, red plaid skirt and red socks as her Halloween costume. Patients and family members of patients at Sharp Grossmont may ask for a therapy pet visit, with the only limitation that the patient must be non-contagious.

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