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Indiana children’s hospital welcomes 1st therapy greyhound

January 2, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Megan Broviak reclined on her bed at Riley Hospital for Children, fixated on the lanky therapy dog sprawled across her lap.

A visit from Phineas — Finn, for short — is a welcome reprieve from what can otherwise be a mundane schedule imposed by her leukemia treatments.

Finn visits patients at Riley at least twice a month, spending two hours on each of those days making friends and comforting families. On a recent Monday afternoon, Megan’s bed became the resting place for the cat-like canine, who was foregoing a nap in favor of hours of affection in the hospital’s hematology-oncology unit.

“You have a rough life, don’t you?” Megan cooed, gently patting Finn’s back.

Finn is a lot like the other 16 dogs in Riley’s pet therapy program, which makes them celebrities when they trot through the hospital’s halls. But Finn’s path to Riley stands out.

He’s the program’s first greyhound, having spent the first two years of his life on a race track. He was trained by prison inmates to be a house pet and in addition to obedience training has had to learn to slow down in exchange for pats and treats.

“The fact that he was able to transition from a racing dog to a therapy dog (makes him special),” said Kim Ziegler, Riley child life specialist and coordinator of the pet therapy program. “Because it takes a very unique dog to be able to work as a therapy dog, let alone in a children’s hospital.”

As far as pet therapy programs go, Riley’s roster is known to be “eclectic,” Ziegler said. Finn’s in a group that has included a schnauzer, several doodle-type breeds and a 150-pound Newfoundland named Panda.

A visit from a therapy dog brightens a patient’s spirit, Ziegler said, reducing stress and anxiety for the child and their family.

“They might have pets at home that they’re missing,” Ziegler said. “A lot of our families are here for long periods of time, so being able to have a dog jump up in their bed is kind of like home.”

“We want to try and normalize the hospital experience as much as possible.”

Osteosarcoma of the fibula brought 10-year-old James Egold to Riley for in- and outpatient chemotherapy. The back-and-forth between home and the hospital is exhausting, said his mother, Sara Egold.

But when Finn sauntered in one December afternoon, the boy was immediately drawn to him. Despite healing from a recent surgery to remove one of his fibulae — lower leg bones — James welcomed Finn’s clumsy steps as the dog settled onto his lap.

It’s important for James’ day to be broken up by visits, his mother said.

“This is how he is at home,” she said. “But then when no one’s around, he just kind of hibernates in his iPad.”

A nurse interrupted James’ visit with Finn with happy news — his most recent tests looked good, and a doctor had given him the OK to go home that afternoon.

As Finn shifted slightly on the bed and his handler, Kathi Moore, hinted at leaving so James could get ready, the boy offered an alternative.

“Maybe he can lay on the couch.”

Finn came to Indianapolis through the Prison Greyhounds program, which places retired racers from Florida with inmate-handlers who prepare them for life as house pets.

Two years ago, Moore’s family was facing the loss of two dogs to old age and illness. Her father-in-law, Gene, had recently died. So, when they met Finn — whose racing name was Gene’s Outlaw — they thought fate must have brought them together.

“We agreed to foster him to see how he was gonna do with the rest of our family of pets,” Moore said. “And a day after we decided to foster him, we called and said that the fostering wasn’t working for us, that we were just gonna have to keep him.”

Greyhounds are different from any other breed they’ve had, Moore said. Finn chatters his teeth when he’s happy in the same way a cat would purr when it’s content. He’s known to run a few laps at a park, then lose interest. He sleeps most of the day.

“I’ve kind of compared them more to cats or horses in their personality,” she said. “Because he’s not all, you know, jiggly and in your face and doesn’t lick you . he’s just a little more sedate.”

Finn and Moore in May finished therapy training — behavioral training for Finn and therapy skills evaluations for both — and started visiting Riley patients in August.

Despite his large, muscular frame, Finn quickly found his place as a lap dog in hospital rooms, hopping onto patients’ beds to receive treats and plenty of pats.

“He loves the kids,” Moore said.

Inside Megan Broviak’s room, she watched the Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship,” a red and green tinsel tree hanging from the IV pole to her left.

She had been in and out of Riley since October, going home to Noblesville in between treatments. Hospital stays can be exhausting.

“It stinks when you’re in here for longer than like a week or something,” she said.

When she can’t be at home with her beagle, Dexter, she looks forward to any chance she gets to visit with the therapy dogs at Riley.

“They’re always happy.”

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Source: The Indianapolis Star

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

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