When we’re feeling stressed or anxious, or we’ve just had a rough day, sometimes what makes it all better is spending some time with our pets.
Unfortunately, many transplant families are separated from theirs’ because they have to travel a long way from home to receive life-saving treatment.
That’s why as part of our Caregiver Lifeline Program, we bring in therapy dogs several times each month to spend time with our guests.
“There are some studies suggesting that petting animals can help reduce stress and anxiety,” says Talia, our social worker.
“Transplant patients and families staying at the Howie’s House are under tremendous stress and away from their own support networks at home, including their own pets. Therapy dogs give the families an opportunity to forget the stressful parts of the transplant journey, even just for a few moments,” she adds.
Carmen and Debra have been visiting our guests since we opened our doors in 2011.
When Debra pulls up into the Howie’s House parking lot, Carmen wags her tail in excitement. They both walk through the doors, greet our staff at the Front Desk, and then Carmen runs excitedly to our social worker Talia’s office to greet her.
Carmen was rescued from Puerto Rico and brought to the United States when she was just a few months old. When Debra and her husband first met Carmen, she ran right up to them, jumped in their laps, and licked their faces. Now she is 11 years old and has been part of the family ever since!
Carmen has never taken an obedience class before but passed her therapy dog certification with ease. “She’s so loving and giving,” Debra explains. “She just knows who needs her and what to do for that person.”
During their visits, Carmen and Debra sit in our living room and wait for our guests to stop by for some quality time. Carmen is always so happy to greet everyone who comes to say hello! She gives tons of kisses, happily wags her tail, and is even willing to just sit quietly by your side for a little while.
Kathy, a Howie’s House guest, loves hanging out with Carmen. “Being with Carmen is relaxing,” she says. “It’s positive therapy for me.”
Kathy also mentions missing her own dog, a Labrador named Molly, who is staying with her sister while she is away from home. “I miss her a lot,” she says. “I love seeing my son with Carmen because I know he misses Molly, too.”
Esther, another guest, agrees: “When you have so much going on all at once, sitting there with a dog is so comforting,” she says. “I’ve missed my dogs who are still at home while I’m here. Being with Carmen lets you forget it all for a little while.”
Debra loves talking to our guests and learning about themselves and their families—and even their dogs!
“Everybody has a dog story,” she says. “Hanging out with Carmen gives them the chance to talk about something or someone they love.”
Carmen also visits schools to help students de-stress during exams, and even takes part in a program where children learning to read can practice reading to her.
Debra recalls when she saw two children waiting in the window for Carmen to walk in, and she immediately ran over and began kissing them.
“I get so excited when people who’ve had a long day see Carmen,” she says. “It makes them feel better. I wish every place had a therapy dog program.”
The Howie’s House’s Caregiver Lifeline Program provides services specifically tailored to the needs of organ transplant patients, family members, and caregivers inside and outside the walls of the Howie’s House.
Carmen is just one of the many therapy dogs we invite to spend time with our guests to help them relax after a stressful day, and also to provide another opportunity for guests to connect with each other. They have an important impact on our guests’ well-being and we look forward to having them every time they come to visit!
Are you interested in bringing your therapy dog to visit our transplant families at the Howie’s House? Contact our social worker, Talia, at email@example.com.