Wednesday, June 22, 2011

the healing power of canine

Last month, BR alum 'Big Sal' and his handler Jackie Gunby accepted a Hero Award from Placer SPCA on behalf of the Kaiser Permanente Pet Visitor Program which brings dogs to visit hospital patients. You may remember Sal from this post on his work with psych patients.

Left: Program founders Mary Knight, Jackie Gunby, Robbie Sarkisian - and Big Sal himself.

Sal showed up as a limping, street weary stray in Oakland, and found a quick spot in our Ambassadog Program. As luck would have it, Sal showed up just as Jackie was starting her search for a four legged partner for therapy work. Kismet!

He's a special guy and his adopter is one special lady. She's devoted herself to improving the lives of people through therapy dogs and helps direct the Delta Society so the amazing gifts of therapy dogs can be shared around the country. She and Sal just completed their final task to serve as one of ten teams in Sacramento allowed into UCD Medical Center Hospital. Sal's known for his ability to "work a room" says Jackie, is for "smiling at everyone, snuffing and snuggling with people who ask, happy to be hugged and kissed, and standing very still on his stool so that neuro-rehab clients could touch him."

A recent Sal story that demonstrates the power of canine:

"A family invited us into their father’s room at Kaiser Roseville to visit with him, “he loves dogs!” He was an older man, imposing in stature and has a big voice, someone who “commands a room” with his presence. He’s excited to see a dog and I put Big Sal’s stool on the floor so that the gentleman can reach Sal to pet him easily from his hospital bed. Sal climbs up on the stool, and the man booms, “No, not there! I want him up here on the bed with me!” We put down a sheet, I help Big Sal up on the bed, and he snuggles happily down in the crook of the patient’s arm with his head resting on his shoulder, both of them the picture of contented happiness. He asks me a few questions about Sal, how old is he, where did he come from, but within a minute or two our patient closes his eyes and drifts off.

The patient’s wife and adult daughter and I quietly chat, and they tell me that the patient is a life-long dog lover and has 2 dogs at home that he won’t be able to go home and see again. After about 5-6 minutes, the patient wakes up and opens his eyes. I’m watching closely to make sure that he isn’t startled by a strange dog lying in his hospital bed with him, and ready to whisk Big Sal off the bed should that be necessary. Instead, the patient feels the weight of Sal’s head on his shoulder, focuses his eyes on Sal laying there relaxed and comfy, and gently tilts his head down to kiss Sal tenderly on the top of the head, snuggling his cheek against the velvet fur. Our patient closes his eyes again and drifts off again, and this same sequence (awake, realize Big Sal is there, kiss, snuggle, sleep again) is repeated 5-6 times while we visit there for about an hour. Big Sal did his job like a star that day, and someone’s day is better."

Thank you Jackie and Big Sal for reminding us once again of the incredible gifts that dogs bring to our human experience.

11 comments:

Pauley, the Mr. or the Mrs. said...

Beautiful!

jess said...

Sal is my Justin Beiber. I'm crying and tearing out my hair because I want to kiss him so bad. When will Jackie start selling Sal merchandise, so I can hang a poster of him over my bed?

Donna said...

Jess - Best. Comment. Ever.

GUFFAW!!

Dianne said...

Post on-line has a great story about matching up Vets with PTSD with pound pups, especially pitbulls.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/racked-by-ptsd-a-veteran-finds-calm-in-a-pound-pup-named-cheyenne/2011/06/16/AGLiYIeH_story.html?fb_ref=NetworkNews

Crystal said...

That brought tears of happiness to my eyes! Way to go Sal and Jackie!

jess said...

This is serious stuff Donna. I fainted after writing that comment and just regained consciousness.

I LOVE YOU SAL!!!!

Leslie said...

Tears of joy are filling my eyes and forming a big 'ol lump in my throat!

Wait! There's no crying at the office! Oh well...they all know I'm an animal lover through and through!

L O V E this!

Thanks for sharing . . .

Heather Cherry said...

That is precious! And Jess, that was hysterical.

Debi said...

This post brought tears to my eyes. I had always wanted my Buddy (CGC, TT) to become a therapy dog, but the canine Cushings derailed that idea because of his extreme hunger.

My beautiful, brindle boy was MY best therapy after a traumatic brain injury (TBI) changed my life and career. Buddy was the love of my life. It's been almost 3 years since I lost him and it seems likes yesterday. He was my heart dog. RIP Buddy.

Milo's Mama said...

That is incredibly touching and beautiful. Thank you for doing this work.

michele said...

I love that story of Big Sal! I hope to become a permanent family for a pit bull type baby!