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Therapy Dog Visits the Sick: Chaya's Story

by Dr. Rachel Addleman, DVM, DiplABVP, CVA
Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist, Dr. Addleman has advanced training and Board Certification in feline medicine. She practices in Houston, Texas and can be found at AnimalFixer.com

Therapy Dog Visits the Sick:  Chaya's StoryChaya, certified by Therapy Dogs International (TDI®), jumped up and put her front paws over the edge of the hospital bed. The patient, a woman not yet thirty, was recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor. The woman reached over to pet Chaya’s head and Chaya lay perfectly still. The desire to reach out to touch a therapy dog can be the first step in a patient’s recovery.

A boxer-pointer dog, Chaya took her job very seriously. The wheelchairs pushing by her did not distract her. She didn’t shy away or bark at loud noises she heard in the hospital. For many years, she worked in the rehabilitation wing at Methodist Hospital, moving from room to room visiting patients. Her job was to provide comfort and companionship to patients recovering from strokes, brain injuries, spinal cord injury, neurological disorders and complex orthopedic surgeries such as amputations.

“Bikur Cholim” or "visiting the sick" in Hebrew, is a mitzvah, a moral and spiritual obligation incumbent upon all Jews to perform. God visited Abraham while he was recuperating after being circumcised (Genesis 17:26-18:1). The Talmud (biblical commentary) teaches us that "As He visited the sick, so shall you visit the sick…"

Want to "GO VISIT"? That was Chaya's code phrase for visiting patients at the hospital. She would start whining in the car when she could smell the hospital. The physical therapist would meet Chaya and her handler and owner Linda Addleman, at the beginning of each session. They would walk together down the halls visiting each room. Therapy dogs help patients relieve stress through petting, touching, and by opening up communication which eases depression.

In 2007 Chaya retired from service when she developed degenerative myelopathy, a condition similar to Lou Gehrig's disease. Like some of the patients she used to visit, she slowly lost the ability to walk. "Rofeh Cholem" in Hebrew means "healing the sick", which wasn't possible with her disease. "Bikur Cholem" is considered an aspect of "Gemilut Chasadim", Hebrew for “selfless kindness", a trait that Chaya should remind us all to aspire to. Because even at the last, Chaya was full of heart, perking up and getting excited when asked if she wanted to "GO VISIT?"

Does your dog have what it takes to be in Therapy Dog International? Visit www.tdi-dog.org.