Vail Health Magazine 2013 - page 29

Snuggling with Becca, a
King Charles-Bichon mix, really
helped Kimberly Clawson with
her homesickness.
On April 11, 2012, Kimberly was
diagnosed with Stage III breast
cancer and from that point on,
her life was a blur of travel and
treatment. She sought care at
Shaw Regional Cancer Center and
had a double mastectomy April
23. Next came chemo, then radi-
ation treatment. She was away
from home a lot.
“Everything happened so fast,”
she says. She was missing her hus-
band, missing her kids and missing
her new dog, Chloe, who she’d had
for less than a year at the time of
her diagnosis.
While staying at Jack’s Place, a
cancer caring lodge for patients
traveling to Shaw for treatment,
she met Becca. “She reminded me
so much of my dog,” she says.
The snuggle session with Becca
was part of a weekly dog visit pa-
tients at Jack’s Place receive from
Vail Pet Partners. Kimberly says
the company from dogs like Becca
helps in the recovery process. “I
feel like animals incorporate a
lot of healing on their own to the
patients,” she says.
Vail Pet Partners has several
dogs that help, such as Murphy, a
golden retriever, and Gracie, a Jack
Russell terrier.
“I’ve met four or five now, it’s
something to look forward to, all
the different dogs, different sizes,
different breeds. Really cool,” she
says. “They accept you for who
you are: What you look like doesn’t
matter to them.”
Team effort
The environment at Jack’s Place —
warm, welcoming and resembling
a Bachelor Gulch living room— is
ideal for a therapy dog program
like Vail Pet Partners.
“Some don’t like the hospital
because of certain smells or the
clinical environment just doesn’t
work for them,” says Cathy Vito,
Gracie’s owner. “But Jack’s Place is
more like a lodge, any of the dogs
who are registered can come here.”
Vail Pet Partners was founded
in 2005 by Vail residents Sally Clair
and Blondie Vucich, and has been
making regular visits to Jack’s
Place since it opened in 2007. The
organization’s mission statement
is to bring “health, well-being
and educational benefits through
positive animal interactions via its
animal-assisted therapy programs
in area hospitals, schools and
other organizations.”
It operates under the umbrella
of the national Pet Partners orga-
nization, which registers dogs and
provides insurance. The Pet Part-
ners evaluation ensures dogs have
basic manners, that owners have
control of their dogs, that the dogs
are polite, and other fundamental
criteria. Anyone with a friendly
dog is welcome to apply.
“We’re looking for people to
make a commitment of once per
month,” says Laura Sellards, Mur-
phy’s owner. “The dog has to be
bathed within 24 hours of coming
into one of these venues, and so,
for the health of your dog, ideally
you wouldn’t bathe them more
than once per month anyway.”
When you and your dog are reg-
istered, you become a “team.” Vail
Pet Partners has approximately 20
teams, with 12 to 14 teams active
at any given time.
“We’d like to be visiting as much
as possible,” says Laura. “We just
don’t have enough coverage to be
in the hospital every day.”
In addition to the twice-per-
week visits to Jack’s Place, Vail
Valley Pet Partners also visits the
Patient Care Unit at the Vail Valley
Medical Center.
‘They take so much of it in’
On a usual workday, the teams
usually devote between two to four
hours per visit.
“They sense illness, that’s why
two to four hours is plenty for the
dogs,” Cathy says. “Because they
take so much of it in ... with some
patients, [Gracie] will get up on the
bed with the patients and curl up
with them, and you can tell she’s
just pulling it all in herself, because
when we leave, she’s exhausted.”
Gracie’s been a therapy dog for
four years. Cathy is also registered
with Murphy, so Murphy can
work with her and Laura. “They’re
best friends,” Cathy says. “When
the vests go on, they know
they’re working.”
And when the vests come off,
Gracie and Murphy are a couple of
pooped out pooches.
“We go out and hike and run
on the mountain all the time,
and when we get back he still
has plenty of energy,” Laura says
about Murphy. “But when we get
back from this, he’s out like a light,
because he has to think and he has
to behave. When we go into the
hospital, we try to keep track of
who pets your dog, and we’ll leave
and 45 strangers will have pet your
dog. They come home exhausted.”
But, as Laura put it, “A tired dog is
a good dog.”
For more information on Vail Pet
Partners or to join the program
with your best friend, visit
Photos by Dominique Taylor
Kimberly Clawson visits with a
Pet Partners dog while staying at Jack’s
Place in Edwards.
Opposite Page:
Golden retriever Bailey spends some
time with Nicholas, a patient, while
making rounds with owner Joyce at
Vail Valley Medical Center.
“I feel like animals incorporate a lot
of healing on their own to the
patients.” —Kimberly Clawson
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