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EXTENDING A PAW TO GERIATRIC PATIENTS.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

There are good hires, and then there are great hires.

Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center recently made four great hires when it gave full-time jobs to mental health recreation therapist aLora Bernardi Saavedra and a trio of therapy dogs, who were laid off last year when Northridge Hospital Medical Center's Sherman Way campus closed its doors.

``Medicine can only do so much, and these dogs are doing the rest,'' says Penni Faul, charge nurse of the geriatric psych unit at the Tarzana hospital.

``The whole unit is absolutely a more cheerful place since they started working here. The patients are much calmer and respond to everything better when the dogs are around.''

The patients may refuse the staff's encouragement to attend activities, Saavedra said, but they can't seem to resist the opportunity to interact with Kelsey, 12, Nikki, 10, and Buddy, 5.

You just have to look down the hallway at the woman in the wheelchair to see what she's talking about.

The woman suffers from severe dementia, was frequently agitated and hadn't spoken in months. Then Buddy walked in her room.

``Delilah,'' she called, smiling and beginning to cry.

``In her mind, Buddy was Delilah, her beloved, deceased pet,'' Saavedra said. ``She couldn't reach out to people, but she could to her pet. She gave Buddy a big hug.''

Every day now, the woman takes Buddy/Delilah for a walk in the hallway, smiling and having a great time.

``Her family is so pleased to see Mom reacting this way instead of being depressed and agitated all the time. Buddy brought her out of her shell.''

And he did it because he and his canine buddies were great hires. People and medicine can only do so much.

Encino-Tarzana is one of the few hospitals in Los Angeles that employs full-time therapy dogs. While Saavedra gets the paycheck and benefits, Buddy, Kelsey and Nikki get the luxury of being pampered 40 hours a week.

``Many hospitals have therapy dogs visit patients once or twice a month,'' Faul said. ``Our dogs visit them almost every day.

``The difference here is our patients form a close, loving relationship with them. You can't do that when you only see them once a month.''

On their breaks, Buddy, Kelsey, and Nikki wander into other areas of the hospital, poking their noses in patients' rooms to see if anyone needs a pick-me-up.

``Everybody wants to spend time with them, especially the staff,'' Faul says.

People tend to forget, but it's a tough job to connect with geriatric patients suffering from dementia, and trying to make their lives as comfortable and fulfilling as possible.

That's why the staff was so happy in June when word spread through the 24-bed unit that Buddy, Kelsey and Nikki were coming to the rescue.

Because medicine can only do so much.

Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749

dennis.mccarthy(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

From left, canines Kelsey, Buddy and Nikki take a break from their jobs as therapy dogs at an Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center ward.

John McCoy/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 28, 2005
Words:513
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